The Leader of Merton Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, has called on Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust to build any new hospital on the current St Helier Hospital site, the area with the biggest health needs and lowest incomes in the Trust’s catchment area.
The Trust has published an engagement document, Providing high quality healthcare services 2020 to 2030, setting out proposals which could see the blue light accident and emergency department and the consultant-led maternity service at St Helier Hospital moved to Epsom or Belmont.
This is the fifth time in 18 years that a set of proposals has been put forward about the future of St Helier Hospital. Cllr Alambritis questioned the basis of the latest engagement and made it clear that any decisions about local hospital services must follow the statutory process.
Cllr Alambritis also criticised Merton Clinical Commissioning Group for its recent decision to shut the walk-in centre at the Wilson Health Centre in Mitcham. This decision left around 6,000 patients scrambling for new GPs and resulted in an increase of 20% of patients presenting themselves at the St Helier Hospital’s accident and emergency department.
Cllr Alambritis said “The NHS must be here for all our communities, not just the affluent. We already know that the gap in life expectancy is growing between the rich and poor. Here in east Merton we have the second highest incidence of tuberculosis in the UK and NHS big-wigs would like to move the vital services in St Helier Hospital to Belmont or Epsom, away from those who need it most.”
In letters to the Trust’s chairman, Laurence Newman and the chairman of Merton Clinical Commissioning Group, Dr Andrew Murray, Cllr Alambritis said the statutory decision making process on the future of health services at St Helier Hospital is in danger of being bypassed. He pointed out that decisions about the future of NHS services in the area are not solely a matter for the NHS and must involve the Health and Wellbeing Board, a partnership of organisations, including the council.
Cllr Alambritis said: “The Health and Wellbeing Board is focused on tackling local health inequalities and must not be ignored. I am urgently seeking reassurance from the Trust that it will work within the statutory decision-making process when planning the future of vital services at St Helier Hospital, which Merton residents depend on.
“The council is committed to ensuring that our residents have access to a full range of NHS acute services at the St Helier Hospital site, including a blue light accident and emergency department and a consultant-led maternity service. The council could not be clearer in our opposition to any closure of services at St Helier Hospital.”