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The £500 million promised by the Government for Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals NHS Trust provides the perfect opportunity to begin to address health inequalities in my part of south-west London. Instead, my local NHS has proposed moving services away from the most deprived areas to leafy Belmont, where life expectancy is longest. If that goes ahead, St Helier Hospital and Epsom Hospital will be downgraded, reducing two A&Es to one, with St Helier Hospital losing major A&E, acute medicine, critical care, emergency surgery, maternity services, in-patient paediatrics and child beds. That 62% reduction in beds would leave a shell of a hospital more accurately described as a walk-in centre.
Across the catchment of the trust, deprivation varies greatly. Given today’s debate, does the Minister agree that health inequalities must be at the heart of the decision on how to spend those funds? The key point is that of the 51 most deprived lower-layer super output areas in the trust’s catchment, just one is nearest to the chosen site. Meanwhile, 42 out of the 51 are nearest to St Helier Hospital. Any decision to downgrade St Helier, therefore, would exacerbate existing health inequalities. Rather than comparing deprivation by proximity to each of the three possible sites, it has been compared by CCG area, disguising the 76.5 year life expectancy of men in parts of Mitcham compared with the 84.4 year average in Wimbledon Park. The thousands of A&E attendances from the deprived areas in Croydon have been discounted, but the comparable number from prosperous Wimbledon have been included. The reality that the area of higher deprivation in the trust’s catchment area has, on average, a far higher attendance at A&E has been dismissed.
“outcomes to reduce the health gap between wealthy and deprived areas”.
With just one month to go until the end of the St Helier consultation, the Government have a decision to make. Will much get yet more, or will the Government insist that vital services are left where they are most needed and any available funds are used to improve St Helier Hospital on its current site?