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official portrait of Siobhain McDonagh

MP will continue fighting plans to close St Helier acute hospital units

Mitchem and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh vowed to keep fighting after Health Secretary Matt Hancock approved plans to move acute hospital units in St Helier Hospital to a new specialist emergency hospital in Belmont last week.

St Helier in Carshalton will be refurbished but residents needing the A&E, maternity, children’s and intensive care units will have to travel to the wealthier area of Belmont, which could be less accessible.

Labour MP McDonagh said that St Helier would lose 62% of its beds as a result of the move.

She added: “This is not over.

“Belmont could be the other side of the moon, it’s that difficult to access. 

“How is it a victory for people in the worst health, with the lowest life expectancy, the lowest access to personal cars, and the greatest dependence on public transport to have to go further for their health services?”

She said she would fight the decision by every means possible and hopes to have a debate on the floor of the House of Commons the week after next.

She also took to Twitter to express her dissapointment.

She wrote: “St Helier isn’t being regenerated it’s being denuded, reduced & left behind like the residents who use it!”

This is all part of the government’s health infrastructure plan to build 40 new hospitals by 2030, with money from a £500 million investment going towards refurbishing older hospitals and building the new one.

NHS Surrey Downs, Sutton and Merton Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) launched a public consultation on 8 January about the new specialist emergency care hospital.

The decision to go forward was made on 3 July.

In August, Merton Council called in the plans for referral to another panel. 

Last Monday evening, Hancock accepted the recommendation of the Independent Review Panel (IRP) that the new hospital should be built in Belmont meaning the acute hospital units in St Helier will move.

INTERESTS OF ‘INDEPENDENTS’: McDonagh said the IRP chair, Prof. Sir Norman Williams, had a conflict of interest

Of the 51 most deprived areas in the NHS Trust’s catchment, only one is closest to the Belmont site whilst 42 are closer to St Helier hospital.

The public consultation earlier this year revealed fewer Merton residents supported the proposals for the Belmont site.

The most common concerns from Merton residents related to access to services, transport and travel from deprived areas, impact on local communities and longer journey times. 

Some have since said they would go to St George’s in Tooting rather than the new one in Belmont.

In his letter to Hancock, IRP Chair Prof. Sir Norman Williams said work was progressing to develop and improve potential transport links.

McDonagh said she didn’t know about this work but she did know that Transport For London was consulting on getting rid of the last bus that goes from Morden to Belmont.

She said: “So actually the opposite is happening to what they suggest.”

SERVICES TO STAY: the Improving Healthcare Together 2020-2030 YouTube posted a video in February listing the services that will remain available at Epsom and St Helier

The CCGs said the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for the refurbishment of old hospital buildings such as Epsom and St Helier which the plans would provide.

They said 85% of people would still be cared for where they were now and there would overall be more beds in the system with the new hospital.

Hancock said: “This new hospital will be transformational for patients and staff at Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust and the wider community.”

Building is planned to start in Belmont in Spring 2022 and the new Specialist Emergency Care Hospital should open in 2025.

You can read more about McDonagh’s personal connection to St Helier Hospital here.

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