Bosses Say Consultant Shortage Is One Reason For New A&E Plans For Sutton

Chance to find out more about future of St Helier Hospital at Wimbledon event

St Helier bosses

A shortage of consultants is just one of the reasons that hospital bosses want to see a new emergency hospital built in Sutton.

And hospital bosses say that at the moment Epsom and St Helier hospitals are running on the goodwill of staff and if changes do not come soon there could be unplanned closures of departments.

The proposals would mean losing the A&E departments at both Epsom and St Helier hospitals.

But they would still run an urgent treatment centre, and with bosses stressing that 85 per cent of services would remain at each hospital.

Sutton is the ‘preferred option’ and the health trust say that responses to the consultation will not necessarily mean that they take one of the alternative options – to have the emergency hospital at either Epsom or St Helier.

But some are concerned about increased journey times to a new hospital and the impact this could have on patients.

You can find out more at a special event taking place at Wimbledon Piazza tomorrow (February 29) from 1pm-4pm.

We sat down with Ruth Charlton, medical director of the trust, and chief executive Daniel Elkeles to find out why they think a new hospital is the best way forward.

Mr Elkeles said that at the moment both hospitals are running on the goodwill of staff, with overworked doctors working in out-of-date hospitals.

The proposals would see the current A&E departments at both hospitals become the a urgent treatment centre which would deal with illnesses and injuries which are not life-threatening. The hospitals would also get an £80 million makeover to improve the crumbling buildings.

Mr Elkeles said: “If we get to the point where [an emergency hospital is not built] the goodwill will run out and we can’t go on running services on both sites.

“There will be unplanned service closures because we can’t recruit – it is a probability not a possibility if this doesn’t happen.”

Ms Charlton, who is herself a consultant paediatrician, said that the standards the trust is aiming for is 12-16 consultants to provide cover 16 hours a day, every day of the year.

There is a shortage of consultants nationally and currently the trust can’t meet the standards across both sites with a shortage of 25 in emergency department, acute medicine and intensive care. The trust says being on one site would address this issue.

Ms Charlton said: “To get the best outcomes for patients, is to have consultants involved in their care from the beginning. Now there are clear standards about the hours that any trust needs to have.

“What our model does is deliver the acute modes of care in one specialist emergency care hospital. When they don’t need that they can be in the district hospital.

“It mirrors how we work now. In the new model if consultants are doing emergency care it would be in the emergency hospital, when you’re doing clinics it would be in the district hospitals.”

While Mr Elkeles said that there are difficulties recruiting consultants and doctors nationally.
The trust has a workforce of 6,000 people with a turnover of 10 per cent a year.

In a recruitment drive the trust has turned its attention overseas, already recruiting hundreds from Europe and further afield. Most recently it has recruited physicians from Pakistan.

Mr Elkeles said that the purpose of the consultation is not to choose which location the emergency hospital should be built at, rather to get feedback on what is most important to people.

He said: “It is not a referendum on who gets the most votes. I think the vast majority of people can see that most care we get is at Epsom and St Helier but you’re asking us to travel a few more miles to get the best treatment.”

“At St Helier one in 10 of our beds are single rooms, the current recommendation is one in two.”

One of the main concerns that people who are sceptical of the plans have is that journey times to the hospital would be increased, which they think could put people at risk.

Ms Charlton said that at the moment, some services are already centralised including certain conditions including major trauma, stroke and heart attack.

She said: “Over the past 10 years it has changed from being taken to your nearest hospital. Now we get taken to a major centre. The reason for doing that is because these centres have staff who can treat you within minutes of your arrival.”

This is what Improving Healthcare Together, which combines Merton, Sutton and Surrey Downs CCGs, says will be the benefit of a dedicated emergency hospital.

Mr Elkeles said: “A few extra miles in an ambulance with paramedics doesn’t make your chances worse. It makes all the difference, arriving at a place with the right services.

“We’ve set out our logic why we think Sutton should be the preferred location. Most people would be going to the emergency hospital by ambulance and once they are a bit better they would be transferred to their district hospital, Epsom or St Helier.

Mr Elkeles said this would be with the trust’s own emergency transport and not always in a traditional ambulance.

You can have your say on the proposals until April 1, more information can be found at,

A series of events to find out more are also taking place, the next are tomorrow (February 29) in Sutton High Street from 10am-12pm and Wimbledon Piazza from 1pm-4pm.

By Tara O'Connor, Local Demcracy Reporter

February 28, 2020