The loss of St Helier Hospital’s accident and emergency department could leave Sutton without sufficient ambulance cover, 999 bosses have warned.
A London Ambulance Service (LAS) senior officer has said the proposals by health bosses to close St Helier’s accident and emergency (A&E) and maternity units could leave a gap in the hospital’s catchment area.
Speaking at a Sutton Council meeting about the NHS Better Services Better Value (BSBV) plans to axe the frontline services, Bill Arkell, operations manager at St Helier, Sutton, and Streatham ambulance stations, raised concerns about how diverting ambulances to other areas would draw them away from Sutton.
He said a further four ambulances, costing up to £1.5m a year, would need to be employed in the area to fill the gap. BSBV have disputed this figure.
Average ambulance journey times to St Helier are currently eight-and-a-half minutes.
Mr Arkell anticipated ambulances which currently would go to St Helier would have increased journey times to 16-17 minutes to Kingston Hospital, 18-20 minutes to Croydon University Hospital and 14-15 minutes to St George’s Hospital.
Councillor Mary Burstow, chairman of the scrutiny committee, said: “These are truly alarming figures. Report after report has shown that the quicker people get treatment the better the outcome.
“Doubling journey times can only put Sutton residents at greater risk.”
Turnaround times at Kingston, Croydon and St George’s for ambulances are all 30 minutes, compared to 15 minutes at St Helier, which would again decrease how quickly ambulances could get back on the road after dropping off patients.
Some 14,500 ambulance journeys are currently made to St Helier each year.
Michael Bailey, senior hospital surgeon and acute medical director for BSBV, said its proposals were about improving patient care.
The extra funding for ambulances is expected to be provided if required.
Mr Arkell said the ambulance service had yet to be consulted by the BSBV team on its proposals, although a BSBV spokesman disputed this, saying discussions had taken place at a high level.
An LAS spokesman said: “We will be working with our NHS partners to ensure that any changes to health services in south-west London will not impact on patient care.
“However, if an A&E closure means longer journey times for our crews, we will need extra funding so that we can provide additional ambulance resources in the area.”
A BSBV spokesman said: “BSBV works with senior London Ambulance Service (LAS) managers and will continue to do so. LAS signed off the blue-light ambulance data used by the scoring panel.
“Statements about BSBV’s impact on Sutton ambulance services are misleading and leave the impression that four new ambulances will be needed if St Helier’s emergency department closes.
"This is based on a wrong assumption that all patients now taken by ambulance to St Helier will be taken to another emergency department, which won’t be the case.
“Many patients taken by LAS to emergency departments will instead access the healthcare they need from better out-of-hours and improved community-based services.
"And travelling further by blue-light ambulance saves lives, as putting all hyper-acute stroke and major trauma services at St George’s in Tooting has shown.
“BSBV is aligned with London ambulance’s vision to cut inappropriate use of LAS.
"Only about a third of incidents attended by LAS last year were life-threatening requiring immediate emergency treatment; a quarter of incidents LAS attended were neither serious nor life-threatening.”