Ashford St Peter’s has unexpectedly decided not to go ahead with its plans to merge with Epsom Hospital. I am extremely disappointed by this news, as I had hoped the merger would provide a long term solution for the hospital. There is still some confusion about the reasons for the decision, with both sides blaming the other. At the heart of the issue is concern about the financial challenges surrounding the merger, and the current financial position of the Epsom and St Helier Trust.
I have talked to my colleague Jeremy Hunt, who is now Health Secretary, about the situation and he has assured me that the situation will now be reviewed carefully and nothing will be done hurriedly. The failure of the merger has big and wider implications for the health service across South West London, and may have the effect of forcing local NHS managers and commissioners to go back to the drawing board. The decision has already been taken in principle to remove acute services from St Helier, but clearly they cannot remove services like maternity from both Epsom and St Helier as the capacity does not exist to absorb elsewhere what happens at the two sites. So there is no question of Epsom losing services in the short term, though it has some financial challenges that have to be addressed.
I will be playing a very active role, as always, in the work that is done over the next few months to find a new path for Epsom. I am hugely frustrated by what has happened, and angry that those involved seem to have wasted so much time and money in a process that they were unable to see through. I will be working to make sure that the future of Epsom Hospital is properly sorted out. The key decision makers now will be local GPs, who are about to take over responsibility for commissioning local healthcare. I have always believed that the future of Epsom will be more stable if local doctors are the people who decide what happens there, and that is now what is going to happen. But we will need their commitment to making sure that the hospital has a strong future.
In the meantime, though, for the hospital and its staff and patients, it is business as usual, continuing the very important work that the team there do on all of our behalf.