I am writing to you again so soon after my last message because there have been unexpected and unwelcome developments on the hospital front.
During the week the team running the hospital review held their project board meeting, and the London based group of doctors and nurses who have been advising the project submitted a recommendation that two of the five A&E and maternity units at St George’s, Kingston, Croydon, St Helier and Epsom should be closed. Although the project team is stressing that these are only recommendations and not a final decision, it seems pretty clear that the main candidates for closure would be at St Helier and Epsom.
This is an extraordinary development, given the fact that the discussion involving Surrey has barely started, and the project team are due to hold their first meeting next week with local interest groups to explain how the review will work. It is bound to lead people locally to the view that the review process is not a serious one.
It is also a very risky step to take legally, as I know from my own experience that public bodies need to be very careful to ensure that any process is genuine – or there is a high risk that it can be challenged in the courts.
I have already made my strong concerns known to the NHS team leading the process. They have a lot of ground to recover if the Better Services Better Value project is to have any credibility at all in Surrey.
The big difficulty I have is that this is not a political process. It is the medical profession who are driving the change. In some respects they are right. There are examples of where the consolidation of services has been good for patients. For example, the decision to treat stroke patients in a smaller number of specialist centres in London has lead to a significant improvement in the likelihood of recovering from a stroke. That’s obviously a good thing.
But I have three arguments with the approach that seems to be being taken.
Firstly, the idea of closing acute services at both Epsom and St Helier seems completely unrealistic. It would leave a gap in provision running from St George’s to Guildford, and in the case of maternity, where there are 4,500 births across the two hospitals, it would require other hospitals to absorb the equivalent of a large maternity unit in a major hospital.
Secondly, I want the future of Epsom to be decided in a Surrey context, and not a London one. Since we now know that the financial position at Epsom is not nearly as bad as was suggested a couple of months ago, I think the process of splitting Epsom from St Helier and looking at Epsom’s future in that context should restart.
Thirdly, it is very obvious that our own local doctors should have the main input in what happens. And yet the provisional recommendations have been put forward without them even having the chance to have their say.
I have therefore written to all of our local GPs to ask them their views on the future of Epsom, so we can put those to the Better Services Better Value team.
If a good majority of our local doctors say they want to see changes, we will have to listen to them. But at the moment things seem to be moving ahead without them even having the chance to express their views.
I am planning to hold a public meeting to discuss what is happening on Thursday 7th February at 7.00. It will be held in the main hall at Blenheim High School in Longmead Road, Epsom at 7.00pm. All are welcome.
I will continue to keep you posted.
With best wishes
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