Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) are proposing to change St Helier to a district hospital by shutting the accident & emergency department, closing key maternity services, including the birthing centre and labour ward and moving Queen Mary's Hospital for Children off the St Helier Hospital site. Instead, the CCGs want to build a new emergency care hospital in Belmont, Sutton.
What this would mean for Merton?
The analysis done by the CCGs show the closure of these key services at St Helier Hospital would mean longer journeys for ambulances as well as for more than a third of Merton residents, when they are most in need of urgent medical attention, are about to give birth or have a child who is very ill. It would also mean people from the most deprived areas are likely to be the worst affected and will experience a disproportionate impact on their journey times to hospital.
Closing services at St Helier Hospital would also increase pressure on other local hospitals, which Merton residents rely on; in particular, St Georges Hospital in Tooting, which is already struggling to cope with local demand as well as being one of only four trauma centres covering the whole of London.
The splitting of services on to different sites would mean Merton residents being shuttled between hospitals for emergency care and other health services. This would require more ambulances and NHS resources, as well as being stressful for vulnerable patients.
We agree that the buildings at St Helier Hospital are in need of refurbishment and improvement and call on the CCGs to ensure that all the acute services, that Merton residents rely on, remain at St Helier and receive the investment that they need.
Improving Healthcare Together consultation
Under the name of Improving Healthcare Together the CCGs held a public consultation on their proposal from 6 January to 1 April 2020. An independent research company will analyse the responses and produce a report by the late spring. The report will then be published and considered by the local clinical commissioning groups.
We responded to the CCGs to let them know that closing the emergency, maternity and children's services at St Helier Hospital is not in the best interests of residents in Merton, and will only make the gap in health inequalities in the borough worse.
In addition, we asked residents to tell us what they thought of the plans to close services at St Helier Hospital. More than 2000 people responded with over 90% agreeing that the accident and emergency, maternity and children's in-patient services should stay at St Helier.
We submitted these documents to the consultation:
What decision did the CCGs make?
At a joint meeting of NHS Surrey Heartlands and NHS South West London clinical commissioning groups on 3 July 2020 they decided to go ahead with plans to close emergency, maternity and children's in-patient services at both Epsom and St Helier Hospitals and to build a new specialist facility at the Sutton Hospital site in Belmont.
What happens next?
Now that the decision has been made, it will take several years for the programme to be completed with the new specialist emergency not completed until 2025 at the earliest. Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust has now been tasked with developing a business case to secure the funding for the proposal.
We are disappointed that the decision to disadvantage Merton residents has been taken and will be working to challenge this process in every way we can.