When I’m out and about speaking to residents, the future of St Helier comes out time and time again as the main local issue of concern and rightly so. I have been volunteering at the hospital feeding patients on the stroke ward on Friday lunchtimes. Walking around the hospital on a regular basis, talking to staff and patients has given me an amazing insight into the hospital and its inner workings.
My two children were born in St Helier 22 and 17 years ago. I remember clear as day, the amazing care that they had, both being born prematurely. A few years’ later my son was playing rugby in a taster session at Sutton Arena. He didn’t have to go very far to get his thumb pulled back into place having dislocated it minutes into the session. Fast forwarding to just last year, I went to A&E three times, once when I drove my mother after she fell in her sheltered accommodation and an ambulance wouldn’t come for some time, another when my wife stood on a six-inch rusty spike left sticking up on open ground in Roundshaw. Even now that makes me squirm just writing it.
I remember two particular thoughts at the time of those last two examples. Firstly how glad I was that I didn’t have to get my mother to St George’s rather than St Helier, close to my home in Carshalton and noting the doubling of the journey time when I had to take her just three days later to a follow-up appointment at St George’s in Tooting. Then when sitting with my wife who was writhing in agony with her Wellington boot left on so as not to dislodge anything and the spike still running through her foot, looking around and realising that few if any other patients appeared to have had an accident or looked as though their visit was an emergency.
When local clinicians first decided to look at reviewing A&E and Maternity services three years ago, I set up a website ‘Here for St Helier’ encouraging people to sign the petition already started by the Sutton Guardian. I figured that this needed to be a grassroots-led campaign that should not be politicised and our local paper was best placed to lead on this. Three years later, our hospital is in a better place but I still believe that it is the wider community that has to speak out en masse to ensure that our hospital remains intact and gets the investment that it needs. Over the last couple of decades, St Helier has been used as a political football, a campaign tool. It’s more than that. It’s our bedrock. St Helier has always been there for us; we need to be there for St Helier.
We have had politicians trying to save the hospital for years, mainly when it didn’t need saving, not unlike an overeager boy scout trying to help an elderly person across a road when they didn’t want to cross in the first place. That suited politicians who were looking at which parts of the borough they could attract votes. During that time, Sutton Hospital in the south of Sutton was left denuded with services transferred to St Helier. Now Sutton Hospital is to join the Queen Mary’s Hospital for Children in Carshalton Beeches and Carshalton War Memorial Hospital on the list of local healthcare facilities that we have lost forever, although Queen Mary’s was shoe-horned onto the St Helier site.
Recently we have seen a slew of petitions calling for St Helier to be saved from the Better Services, Better Value (BSBV) review. All of them called for the right thing to be done, one big one compiled by our local MPs has not seen the light of day having not been presented to anyone in order to be able to do any saving. Some residents have drawn the conclusion that this was just to collect people’s personal data, rather than its stated purpose. During this time, the £219m earmarked to rebuild Ferguson House was redirected, presumably to an area where they had a firmer idea of what kind of hospital they wanted to build.
There is no doubt that BSBV was a costly mistake. We must fight to keep these essential services here at St Helier and I will fight tooth and nail to keep them. But I will do it with and alongside residents. Yes, MPs are community leaders and have influence, but our NHS should not be abused for the sake of politics. I worry when I see campaigning on local healthcare services splinter into political dogmatic discussions about ‘privatisation’, the effect on the NHS of TTIP and other points of that type. It’s absolutely right that those matters are debated but mixing them up with the future of our particular hospital in the context of the BSBV review is a huge strategic mistake and runs the risk of a disjointed community campaign against a highly organised approach by clinicians, GPs and administrators.
In summary, I will fight to protect healthcare services at St Helier, support the Hospital Trust’s plan to get them back on a surer financial footing, campaign for greater capital investment to update our treasured hospital and won’t run unnecessary campaigns that risk undermining the hospital and demoralising NHS staff.