Independent panel to examine whether proposal to downgrade St Helier Hospital should be called in

An independent panel is assessing whether a decision to downgrade St Helier Hospital, by closing its accident and emergency department and consultant-led maternity services, should be fully reviewed.

In July, Merton the council wrote to the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, asking him to call in the proposed decision to downgrade St Helier Hospital for an independent review. This followed the approval of the decision making business case by the NHS Committees in Common of the South West London and Surrey Heartlands Clinical Commissioning Groups.

The decision-making business case, which sets out plans to spend £500million of government funding on improving health services at St Helier, Epsom and Sutton hospitals,  advocates Belmont in the south of Sutton as the preferred location for a specialist emergency care hospital, which means that St Helier Hospital would be downgraded.

The Secretary of State has asked the Independent Reconfiguration Panel to do an initial assessment of the case. If the panel decides to carry out a full review, Merton Council will be able to present its case to the panel.

The council is challenging the CCGs on the grounds that locating the specialist emergency care hospital in Belmont would mean moving vital health services away from deprived areas and into a more affluent place. The council also argues that the impact of COVID-19 has not properly been taken into account and it is still too early to ascertain what effect the pandemic will have on planning future health services for the area. A public consultation, run earlier this year, by the former NHS Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Groups, branding themselves as Improving Healthcare Together, concluded as lockdown began.

The Leader of Merton Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis, said: “We have received an encouraging response from the health secretary to our call for the proposed downgrade of St Helier Hospital to be independently reviewed. The Independent Reconfiguration Panel is carrying out an initial assessment of the case and we hope they will agree with us that a full review must be done before the final decision is made by the clinical commissioning groups on the location of the specialist emergency care hospital.

“While we welcome the proposed investment, we want to ensure it is targeted at residents who need it most, which would most effectively be achieved by improving St Helier Hospital on its current site.

“Moving acute services, including the accident and emergency department and consultant-led maternity care, out of St Helier Hospital is a terrible decision, which would disadvantage residents in the most deprived areas of Merton. The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have a massive impact on critical health services and this must be fully taken into account by the clinical commissioning groups.”