More than 10,000 people have signed a petition opposing the closure of two local hospitals, including St Helier in Sutton.
Hospital workers are convinced that Jeremy Hunt, the Tory health minister, is working on plans to close maternity and A&E departments at St Helier and at Epsom Hospital, meaning that other south London hospitals such as Croydon’s Mayday will have to take up added demand for treatment from across the region.
The closure plans are hardly a secret. As Inside Croydon reported a year ago, something called the South-West London Sustainability and Transformation Partnership (STP) proposed cutting the number of acute hospitals from five to four, or even three. Now, health service workers say, the management of the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust appears to be trying to make a case for going ahead with the closures without even the pretence of a public consultation.
The Department of Health’s plans involve a £400million spend on a “health facility”, probably to be built at Belmont. It would replace all acute services at the existing two hospitals – Accident and Emergency, Consultant-led Maternity, Emergency Medicine and Surgery, Intensive Care, Cancer Care, Coronary Care, and in-patient Children’s Care.
But the new “facility”, which has the backing of Sutton and Cheam Tory MP Paul Scully, may not be ready until 2026 – some six years after the possible closures of St Helier and Epsom.“They’re packaging up our health services in south London in tasty, bite-sized chunks, ready to flog-off, bit by bit, to insurance firms and private health providers,” one health service worker told Inside Croydon.
“It’s all part of the Tory privatisation of our NHS for the benefit of their fat-cat friends in big business.”
This week, Daniel Elkeles, the chief executive of the NHS trust which operates St Helier, told one local paper that mothers using the maternity unit at the hospital were having to be driven to St George’s, Tooting, if they needed emergency Caesarians, the implication being that the service at his own hospital was inadequate, even unsafe, and therefore in need of being closed.
“It’s just not true,” someone speaking on behalf of the midwives at St Helier said.
“We are providing all services, including emergency Caesarians. We don’t know where Mr Elkeles got his information about sending patients off to St George’s.”
KOSHH – the Keep Our St Helier Hospital Campaign – has been gathering signatures from people who want to keep all services at south London hospitals.
This petition was presented to clinical commissioners on November 30.
“It demonstrates there is strong public opposition to Epsom and St Helier Trust’s plan to remove all acute services from both its hospitals,” a spokesperson for KOSHH said.
There has not been any public consultation on the closures, though the Trust has conducted what it calls a public “engagement”, passing off a few hundred (anonymous) responses as genuine support for its proposals.
“Most consultations are only lip-service, anyway. They rarely change what the authorities have decided that they want to do,” a KOSHH activist told Inside Croydon.
“But we suspect that the Trust wants to skip any consultation. They did a similar sort of thing in Hammersmith, before they closed hospitals in west London. There, instead of any meaningful public consultation, they issued plastic carrier bags to local pharmacies with a slogan on the side. Every one handed out with a prescription was counted as an ‘engagement’.”
KOSHH maintains that the engagement conducted by the Epsom and St Helier Trust recently has been badly flawed.
• The questionnaires were vague, biased and misleading.
• Neither the questionnaires nor the presentations highlighted the fact that the new facility, if built, would reduce the number of acute facilities from two to one.
• The Trust denied the fact that their plan would mean significant delays due to longer journeys for emergency treatment and would therefore increase danger to patients.
• They were able to provide no evidence that reducing the number of sites providing A&E and Consultant-led Maternity would lead to better outcomes.
• They failed to make clear that there would be a gap of up to six years between 2020 (the date to which they have pledged that the current services at both sites would be safe) and the earliest date the new facility could be up and running.
KOSHH is holding a public meeting at Bishopford Road Social Club, Morden, on January 30. “It’s vital we get the message out there – this is a real threat to the lives, health and well-being of at least half a million people in south London,” they said.
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