MPs from across south London have written to Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, with a letter critical of plans for St Helier Hospital’s maternity services to be downgraded and moved to a new site in Belmont.
Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central, is among the signatories.
The letter follows Black Maternal Health Awareness Week – a week-long campaign highlighting what the government itself has described as “unacceptable” disparities in maternal outcomes for black women.
Epsom and St Helier Hospitals are set to be downgraded with all acute services moving to Belmont. St Helier would lose its A&E, maternity services, children’s beds, critical care and 62 per cent of beds.
The proposals would cost £511million but a recent report in the Health Service Journal indicated that the budget could be slashed by 20 per cent. Improving St Helier Hospital on its current site is estimated to cost £430million, with a higher return on investment.
In their joint letter, the south London MPs argue that these proposals would move maternity services further away from the areas with the highest number of BAME women, exacerbating these issues.
The letter states, “We believe that a loss of maternity services at St Helier will exacerbate the appalling health inequalities disproportionately facing pregnant BAME women in our constituencies.
“With two maternity services reduced to one, the reality of these proposals for many women is that their maternity services will be moved further away.
“If a pregnant woman needs to get to hospital as quickly as possible, the extra travel time for mother and baby will put them at increased risk. We are further concerned at the impact of these proposals on continuity of care if a woman gives birth at one hospital but receives antenatal and postnatal care elsewhere.”
Research shows that black women are more than four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or in the six weeks after giving birth.
Of the 66 areas with the highest proportion of BAME residents in the catchment impacted by the proposed downgrade of St Helier and Epsom hospitals, just one is nearest to the proposed new services in Belmont. Meanwhile, 64 of the 66 are nearest to St Helier.
Siobhain McDonagh, the MP for Mitcham and Morden, said, “This Black Maternal Health Awareness Week, the government described the disparities that exist between black and white women in pregnancy and childbirth experiences as ‘unacceptable’.
“Why then are they giving a green light to proposals in south London to downgrade two hospitals and exacerbate these issues by moving maternity services further away?
“Our letter calls loud and clear for the Health Secretary to urgently reconsider these dangerous plans.”
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