Plans for a new hospital in Sutton have been hit after the government wrote to the local NHS Trust to advise that they would be cutting their contribution to the £511million build costs by around a quarter.
The plans to build the new hospital, alongside the world-renowned Royal Marsden cancer centre in Belmont, were approved by the government in July 2020. Construction work was due to begin in 2022.
The scheme has long been controversial, and has been widely opposed by health service trades unions and by Merton Council, while they have the backing of LibDem-controlled Sutton Council and Sutton’s two Tory MPs.
The plans go hand-in-hand with the down-grading of A&E, maternity and other core services at St Helier and Epsom hospitals.
But given the Tory government’s boast of delivering 40 new hospitals across the country over the next decade, capping the Department of Health and Social Care’s contribution to the Sutton project at £400million seems certain to ensure even more cuts to services in the area served by the Epsom, St Helier and St George’s NHS Trust.
“The reduction in the government contribution of £100million must mean changes to the Trust’s plans,” local trades unions warn.
Steve Browett, the president of the Merton and Sutton TUC, told Inside Croydon, “The adopted plan of a new hospital in Sutton already reduced the number of available beds in South West London.
“With the £100 million cut in government contribution, it is clear that the original proposals are ruined and will need to change. We fear that any change will mean the number of beds may be reduced even further.
“There are alternative cheaper ‘in budget’ proposals than to build a new hospital, such as enhancing the services on both Epsom and St Helier Hospital sites. It’s time for these to be considered in light of the new financial situation. We don’t need another hospital, we just need funding to ensure that both Epsom and St Helier Hospitals can deliver good healthcare to our community.
“There is an obvious need for further open consultation with the local population and health bodies.”
Front-line NHS workers across south-west London, meanwhile, after 18 months of dealing with the covid-19 pandemic, are feeling increasingly marginalised by health department managers. The role of chief executive of what was the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust appears to have just evaporated, following the departure of Daniel Elkeles to become the CEO of the London Ambulance Service.
Epsom and St Helier hospitals have been swallowed up into a larger “group”, to include St George’s Hospital at Tooting, with its CEO, Jacqueline Totterdell, taking charge of the enlarged authority. There was never any public consultation held over this significant change.
In her first message to the Trust’s staff Totterdell wrote last month in a cheery, off-beat style, “Please be assured that I am absolutely behind the ‘Building Your Future Hospitals’ programme, and will keep pushing forward the plans for the new Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Sutton (it is very clear to me that I will not be forgiven if I do not continue to champion it!).
“It is a must for ESTH and an objective I am clear has to be delivered.”
It’s just that Totterdell now has £100million less to deliver it with than when she started her much-expanded role in July.
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It seems such a bad site for a hospital, in a rich part of the borough of Sutton, at the very edge of the urban/ suburban area, badly served by bus routes, and well away from the poorer areas. Anyone looking at a map of existing provision of hospitals relative to the population, will see St George’s in the North, with Epsom in the West, with St Helier in the middle, well placed to serve Sutton, Cheam, Carshalton, Wallington, Hackbridge and South Mitcham.
The new site is out on a limb, on the very Southernmost extreme of Sutton, on the edge of Banstead downs. It will enjoy fresh air, but my guess is that journey times for ambulances to it will be longer for patients From most places will be slower than to St H. I think that St George’s would be swamped with patients who hail from the area currently served by St Helier.
I hope that the financial shortfall will lead to a thorough review of the options, for the above reasons, and also that savings will reduce quality f the design, materials and build. No-one sensible would want to have a cheap version that gets tatty and falls to bits in a few years. That is exactly what happens. Cheap materials, Fewer windows, corner cutting in design and build quality. Poor landscaping and external finishes.
My guess is that this project is driven by some ideas that the St H site will be a crock of gold as a housing estate.
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I feel that all Trusts in south london need to be combined, and perhaps parts of Surrey so that an up to date and environmentally friendly hospital can serve the ever growing population of the surrounding areas.
It is clear that the current E&SH and Croydon sites cannot be developed until alternatives can be developed and funding raised.