If a politician comes up to you over the next few months and shoves a petition into your hands suggesting that St Helier needs saving again just before an election, heed the words of the Epsom & St Helier NHS Trust Chairman, Lawrence Newman at the Trust’s AGM last night:
“The easy answer is no, St Helier hospital is not going to close, it is not going to lose any of its services, it is not going to lose its A&E or its maternity services.
“Having said that, all of healthcare in London as a whole is being looked at and who knows what will come of that. As we sit here today we can say hand on heart it’s not going to close.”
So yes, let’s work together to make sure that clinicians know that local healthcare is best rather than traipsing across South London in an emergency but the hospital won’t be privatised out of existence, the BSBV review has been scrapped to concentrate on the five year financial plan for the trust. Twenty years of treating the hospital like a political football has not served local people well. It meant that Sutton Hospital has gradually been denuded of its services in favour of St Helier, leading to its forthcoming closure. The £219m funding for the refurbishment of St Helier was taken back after it was realised that no-one could agree what type of hospital was to be built on the site. Staff and residents have been demoralised after years of fear that local healthcare was coming to an end.
There is no doubt that the Better Services, Better Value review was a real risk to the hospital but it is important that we do not get to a situation with the boy crying wolf. Vigilance must not be replaced by scaremongering for political opportunism. The Epsom & St Helier Hospital Trust are due to break even this year for the first time and their finances are looking stable over the longer term, their excellent staff have led to some terrific performance figures and they have a record number of volunteers giving up their time to support the two much-valued hospitals.
For most of my adult life, I’ve had local MPs telling me our hospital was going to close imminently and national Labour MPs telling me Jack Bauer style that we have 24 hours to save the NHS. Let’s keep focused on the real healthcare issues and campaign to ensure that our hospital is well-resourced.