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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Gapes; I love saying that, particularly to our current Chair. I thank my hon. Friend Faisal Rashid for securing this important debate.
I am here today to put on record the wild west of the NHS in south-west London, which will be well known to the Minister. It is a branch of the NHS that has spent the past two decades desperately trying to close the A&E and maternity unit at St Helier hospital on the border of my constituency and move those services to leafy, wealthy Belmont in Sutton. I will describe the geography for any hon. Members unfamiliar with my constituency. St Helier hospital is based in the deprived area of Rose Hill. Further south is the Royal Marsden in the wealthy area of Belmont, and seven miles west is Epsom hospital. The local CCGs are proposing to move all their acute services to just one of those sites.
This is about accountability. Over the past 20 years a staggering £50 million has been wasted on almost identical consultations to reach the obvious conclusion: acute health services must be placed in the area where people are most deprived and most in need, and have the greatest health issues. They must be placed at St Helier hospital’s current site. It does not matter how many brands or names the local NHS gives these proposals or how many marketing consultants are hired. Moving these health services would be catastrophic for my constituents, and catastrophic for south-west London.
What my local NHS fails to consider is this: if St Helier hospital loses acute services, my constituents will not turn to Belmont. The Minister will know Lavender, Cricket Green, Figges Marsh and Mitcham town centre. They will turn north to St George’s or east to Croydon, both hospitals that are already under extraordinary pressure. I told the Prime Minister only today of the case of my constituent who had to queue outside St George’s hospital last Monday because the A&E was simply full. Two weeks ago, St George’s was on black alert. It had no beds. The managers had to cancel all meetings and walk around wards, attempting to get people discharged. Those pressures exist even before the winter bad weather starts and before the flu epidemic that we are anticipating.
I could not possibly have emphasised any more strongly to my local NHS that its statistics and suggestions that people will move from London and parts of my constituency to Belmont are simply not going to happen. In all the years I have been fighting this, nobody in the NHS has ever said anything publicly to support my view, until the week before last. I could not believe it when the chair of St George’s NHS trust wrote a letter that argued:
“There is no formal requirement to take account of the impact” of its proposals on other providers.
Let me make this clear. Moving acute hospital services from St Helier to Sutton could bring St George’s hospital to the point of collapse, yet those consulting on these proposals were not even taking the inevitable impact on other hospitals into account. Is there a code of guidance on consultation in the NHS? It does not seem that people in south-west London have read it. Take last year, when the same consultation was run, this time by the hospital trust itself, and was called “public engagement”. To the public, the trust portrays a neutral stance and says a suitable site will be selected across south-west London for its services. To the stakeholders in Sutton, it confesses its desire to move the services to their wealthy area. To me, it pretends that the consultation will genuinely seek the views of the public, before it happens to ignore the fact that the consultation receives six times as many negative responses as positive ones.
I was not surprised, given that—this is hard to believe—Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust delivered the consultation document to most parts of Sutton and most parts of Epsom, but not a single street in my constituency; and that is called a consultation. I ask the Minister whether he thinks it is appropriate for an NHS body to run a consultation or an engagement and simply exclude part of the catchment area. Better to deliver no leaflets at all than not to include everybody.
Fast-forward to the latest attempt, where flawed consultation documents are created so that boxes can be ticked and the process can move along more and more quickly. The latest versions argue that Belmont is the deprived area locally, but, staggeringly, the same documents suggest that Pollards Hill is outside the catchment area for the Epsom and St Helier trust—something that will come as news to Wide Way, the largest GP surgery in Pollards Hill, which sends 35% of its patients to St Helier hospital. The trust claims to be neutral about sites, but when I secured £267 million from the Department of Health and the Treasury under both the Labour Government and the coalition Government to rebuild St Helier, guess what happened? The local NHS sent the money back; it did not want to use it.
It seems that every step forward comes up with a new consultation involving closed meetings that unswervingly fails to take account of health inequalities, which I understand is a legal requirement for the NHS. The trust ignores access to the site, public transport and percentage of car ownership, and we make no progress. For me, the last 20 years as the MP for Mitcham and Morden has been like being in the film “Groundhog Day”. Every month there is something, and we can absolutely rely on the fact that every July some bit of the south-west London NHS will want to come up with a consultation to move acute services from St Helier hospital. I simply want to put a stop to it. I want the staff at St Helier to know they have a future, and I want my constituents not to be worried about how they will access an A&E.