Siobhain McDonagh takes battle for future of St Helier and NHS personally

By Will Cracknell
December 6 2019, 21.35

For Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh, the campaign to safeguard the NHS and St Helier Hospital is one of personal and political significance.

The former assistant whip has serious concerns about the prospect of St Helier losing its A&E and maternity departments.

Health chiefs warned NHS England in August they want to provide all acute hospital services at just one site: Epsom, St Helier or Sutton.

But Ms McDonagh vehemently opposes this plan and her commitment to preserving the hospital’s emergency care wards owes much to her mother Breda, who worked as a nurse at the now closed Tooting Bec Psychiatric Hospital.

She said: “My mum came over from Ireland in 1948 to train as a nurse in the first year of the NHS.

“The truth is, we’ve always relied on and attracted nurses from the Commonwealth and overseas in our NHS.

“The idea that we are going to staff it just out of people from Britain has never happened.

“The closure and moving further away of the A&E and maternity units would impact not only the people who use St Helier but put huge pressure on Croydon University hospital and St George’s, leading to a big deterioration in services.”

Ms McDonagh has fought the closure of St Helier on numerous occasions in her 22-year political career.

Her resolve to protect the hospital for her constituents in part derives from the care her mother, who passed away in April, received there.

She said: “This will be our first Christmas without my mum. She was 95, I’m very proud of her. She was a great woman.

“She went to both St Helier and St George’s and she got great care from the NHS. She was very fond of St Helier because it was much smaller – I think the size of St George’s can be intimidating for some older people.

“It leaves a hole as we were providing help, support and care for her. But we have the benefit of knowing she died at home which is what she wanted.”

Ms McDonagh believes the withdrawal of NHS bursaries has made nursing a less attractive option for many.

She added: “We need to make the NHS a more pleasant place to be. The nurses I know desperately want to do their job but don’t feel they are allowed to do it properly at the moment just because of the sheer numbers and demand.”

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