Proposals to axe key services at St Helier hospital would be a “disaster”, a heated public meeting heard, after rumours surfaced that Epsom’s accident and emergency unit could now also be under threat.
Health bosses were challenged over their recommendation to remove the hospital accident and emergency (A&E) and maternity units, subject to a consultation that has been delayed from October to November.
During a meeting of Merton Council’s health and overview scrutiny committee, on Monday, September 17, the clinicians recommending the cuts were asked how many objections to their consultation was needed to reverse the plans.
Dr Rachel Tyndall, from the NHS’s Better Service Better Value (BSBV) group, said: “This is not a referendum.”
Councillor Suzanne Evans, a member of the committee and Merton Conservatives’ health spokeswoman, described that answer as “proof they’re not interested in what the public thinks”.
She said: “The whole thing has been a foregone conclusion and that comment shows you how seriously this consultation is being taken.
“The facts have been made to fit the story and people are seeing through it.”
The three-person BSBV panel, which also comprised Dr Mike Bailey and Dr Paul Alfred, were also asked about rumours that Epsom Hospital could also lose its A&E in a further shake-up of health services in North Surrey.
Coun Evans said similar cuts to Epsom would make the case for St Helier’s downgrading “crumble” because BSBV assumes Epsom can fill part of the void.
She said: “The model they’re using says 20 per cent of people using St Helier can go to Epsom, so if Epsom also loses its A&E it would be a disaster.
“The fact they didn’t deny this could happen is very worrying indeed.”
Epsom and St Helier hospitals are currently managed under a single trust which is set to de-merge, with Epsom becoming part of a trust with Ashford and St Peter’s hospitals.
Speaking at another public meeting last week, Andrew Liles, chief executive of Ashford and St Peter’s Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, insisted Epsom’s existing services were safe as long as staffing levels could be maintained.