NHS chiefs in Merton will later this week propose the closure of the Accident and Emergency department and the Maternity unit at St Helier Hospital, according to an MP for the area. The MP, Siobhain McDonagh, warns that any such closures are likely to have a far-reaching impact on health service provision across south London, including at Croydon’s Mayday Hospital.
McDonagh, the Labour MP for Mitcham and Morden, had a meeting with NHS officials last Friday to discuss the proposals, which are expected to be discussed publicly at a Merton Clinical Commissioning Group meeting this week.
The fate of St Helier has been in the balance for nearly 20 years, with various proposals, under different governments, coming and going for its upgrading or down-ranking. The threat to the hospital’s future has been particularly strong in the last eight years, under Conservative-led governments.
The notion of somehow merging acute services with other hospitals in the region – Epsom and St George’s at Tooting – has been the not-so-hidden agenda for a couple of years, and is being presented by NHS chiefs, including the hospital trust’s chief executive, Daniel Elkeles, as something that the public somehow supports, following a couple of somewhat leading “public engagements”.
Any closure at St Helier Hospital is sure to divert the demand for services to Croydon’s Mayday Hospital, which has been groaning under the strain of ever-rising demand for treatment against a background of year-on-year reductions in real-terms budgets.
McDonagh reckons that £50million of public money has been squandered over the past 15 years simply on consultations about St Helier Hospital’s future.
The latest round was described by the Trust as an “engagement”, rather than a consultation. Having “engaged”, it seems that there is a determination to steam ahead with a cost-cutting plan which will widen the catchment area for the hospitals, increase the number of people served by them, while reducing the number of acute beds available.
In a series of tweets last night, McDonagh’s rising anger with the decision was clear.
“Next week NHS Merton CCG will propose to close A&E and Maternity at St Helier, moving them to Belmont,” McDonagh wrote, saying that it was a “move that will not only destroy St Helier but also St Georges Trust”.
McDonagh openly challenged the NHS leadership. “Anyone listening?” she wrote. “Just asking on behalf of 70,000+ constituents.
“Over last 20 years I have fought closure of St Helier five or six times. NHS Merton CCG told me it would be different this time. That they really want the best for local people.
“It isn’t and they don’t.”
McDonagh claims that this week the Merton CCG – which has a meeting on Wednesday, November 7, from 2.30pm at the Chaucer Centre in Morden – has “hand-picked” 45 patients and 45 medics to propose the closure of St Helier’s Maternity and A&E departments.
“Your idea of democracy? Mine neither,” she wrote.
“When is a promise not a promise? When NHS Merton CCG promise to investigate deprivation, inequality and access before proposing to close A&E and Maternity at St Helier.
McDonagh’s opposition to any closure is implacable. She has said before, “For 18 years, consultation after consultation has been run to determine the future of St Helier Hospital. Each consultation has been clear: there should be a fully operational St Helier Hospital on its current site.”
Plans to close St Helier were obvious back in 2015, when a BBC reporter overheard an NHS official discussing the plans on a conference call while on a train journey. Two years later, the latest plan proposed that all acute hospital services (including A&E and consultant-led Maternity services) should be located at just one site: Epsom, St Helier or Belmont.
“Last year’s engagement has been used to give a mandate to the local Clinical Commissioning Groups to run their own public engagement with the same proposal,” McDonagh said.
“History suggests that once a hospital loses acute services, it is the beginning of the end for that hospital.
“The statistics for health, population size and deprivation could not be clearer: the area surrounding St Helier Hospital is in worse health, with a bigger population, and a population who are more reliant on public transport. Moving acute services including major A&E and consultant-led Maternity services away from St Helier Hospital would literally be moving them away from an area that needs them more, completely going against the purpose of a hospital.
“And can you imagine the pressure that St George’s Hospital and Croydon University Hospital would be put under if St Helier lost its major A&E?”
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