"Appalled" "outraged" "beyond belief" - those were the responses from campaigners and politicians this morning to the news that secret proposals are being drawn up to close St Helier and Epsom Hospitals and build a "super hospital" instead.

From today: Secret plans to close Epsom and St Helier and build new super hospital overheard on train

The existence of a proposal to close both hospitals and replace them with an 800 bed "super hospital" in Sutton was leaked to the BBC yesterday after health consultants were over-heard discussing it on the train.

It comes less than three weeks after trust chief executive Daniel Elkeles assured this newspaper that accident and emergency (A&E), maternity and children’s services would be safe on both sites for the next five years.

From Tuesday March 31: Leading GP declines to support Epsom and St Helier A&E and maternity hopes as fears of post-election cuts resurface

And the news broke on the same day as a Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg and Tom Brake, standing for re-election as MP for Carshalton and Wallington, visited St Helier Hospital.

Mitcham and Morden parliamentary candidate Siobhain McDonagh was so horrified that she camped outside Mr Elkeles’ office at 8am this morning to demand answers from him in person.

She has played a leading role in campaigning to save St Helier Hospital from budget cuts as MP alongside dozens of others passionate campaign groups.

Ms McDonagh, pictured above, said: "The chief executive was stunned to see me outside his office.

"(For campaigners) it means the hospital is in a period of safety for the next five years. In the long term we will have the same fight and same battle and we will fight with the same enthusiasm and determination.

"It is beyond belief.

"They might as well put it on Mars for some of the people coming from Mitcham."

Conservative parliamentary candidate for Mitcham and Morden Paul Holmes, pictured above, said: "I will never vote for a reduction in services.

"It is a vital service.

"The most important thing is services will not change.

"It is quite clear there is no truth to what was overheard on the train."

Georgia Lewis a Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH) campaigner said: "I am absolutely appalled and outraged. A group of KOSHH campaigners, myself included, met with Daniel Elkeles a few weeks back and there was no mention of this at all.

"Yet, having seen the BBC report on this story last night, it is so obvious that he had to have known about this. There is so much wrong with the "preferred option" that it is hard to know where to start.

"The likes of Paul Burstow and Siobhain McDonagh were taking Daniel Elkeles' assurances about the future of St Helier at face value in recent weeks.

"We have tried to point out that without CCG support, the hospital is not safe but nobody seemed prepared to listen. Now it turns out Mr Elkeles is in on possible plans to close the hospital too."

Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council, pictured above, said: "I’m absolutely astounded and appalled at these secret plans to close our local hospital.

"There are some very serious questions to be answered. Why was this plan kept secret from local people?

"Who in the government knew about the plans? Were they intending to keep this secret until after the general election?

"I will be demanding answers to these questions from the Secretary of State and health bosses. "Labour in Merton will not let this government away with secretly trying to close our hospital."

Conservative Wimbledon parliamentary candidate Stephen Hammond, pictured below, said: "I am clear that services are safe at St Helier for the next five years. The trust has made that clear. I will fight to make sure this happens."

Speaking about the plan to build a new hospital at the Sutton Hospital site, Labour Wimbledon parliamentary candidate Councillor Andrew Judge, pictured below, said: "This is identical to a previous plan that I stopped when leader of the council 10 years ago.

"On that occasion, I commissioned an expert report that demonstrated that the proposed new site was far from the area of greatest need and got the Labour Secretary of State for Health to intervene to stop the closure.

"The proposed closure was wrong for local residents then and it is wrong now. The Epsom and St Helier Trust should come clean about what exactly they have asked their consultants to do and why this is in conflict with their recent public statement?"

Epsom and St Helier Hospital Trust issued a statement this morning which said: "We would like to assure our patients, visitors and other local people that our plans and objectives for the next five years remain completely unchanged.

"Our five-year strategy to keep all our sites where they are remains the same; our plan to keep our A&E and maternity services open at our two biggest sites remain the same.

"In short, all of the commitments we made publically two-and-a-half weeks ago remain the same."

In an exclusive interview with the this newspaper last month, Mr Elkeles said the trust had been given the green light to move towards semi-independent foundation trust status and that they would be breaking even by the end of the month "by hook or by crook".

Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Shas Sheehan said: "So there we have it. The CEO's words of reassurance are worthless. The campaign to safeguard the future welfare of local NHS services must go on.

"If we let up now we will see a reduction of beds and a downgraded service for local people. The Conservative candidate Stephen Hammond's complacency at recent hustings has been shown to be utterly misplaced when he pooh-poohed my campaign as scaremongering."

UKIP's Wimbledon parliamentary candidate Peter Bucklitsch said the impact on St George's Hospital would be unacceptable and the traffic would be a major issue.   

Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Mitcham and Morden Diana Coman said: "This argument has been going on for the best part of 15 years during which time we have missed out on much needed investment in local services and the harnessing of new ideas in health provision.

"This latest news does nothing to solve the deadlock and seems to be a rehash of a proposal discussed about 10 years ago. We just seem to go round in circles."
 

Tony Blair poses for pics with fans in Mitcham to help swell party's election war chest

When the former prime minister, Tony Blair, visited Mitcham a week ago for a party fundraiser he praised Ms Mc Donagh's role in saving St Helier Hospital.

A witness told the Wimbledon Guardian: "He told this story that while he was still prime minister he was in a meeting and someone said we are going to have to close St Helier Hospital.

"And he said, have you met Siobhain McDonagh and Margaret McDonagh? [Ms McDonagh's sister and former general secretary of the Labour Party].

"And he said well if you do, you'll know that they won't be doing that."

What do you think about the proposals?

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