Fears For Longer 999 Ambulance Trips With Potential St Helier A&E Closure

NHS bosses try to allay fears as consultation into emergency health services opens

St Helier Hospital

NHS bosses have sought to allay concerns that journey times will be increased if a single emergency unit opens in Sutton while Epsom and St Helier Hospitals lose theirs.


In a public consultation into the future of St Helier and Epsom Hospitals the NHS has stated its preferred option is for a new dedicated emergency hospital in Sutton, and for the other two to be downgraded, losing their A&E departments.


The other two options are to have the emergency unit at Epsom or St Helier hospitals.


Longer times for ambulance journeys is one of the key concerns people have with this option.


As all three options involve moving acute services from two sites to one, some patients are likely to face longer journeys.


As part of the consultation Improving Healthcare Together has published ‘baseline travel analysis’.


The consultation states: “If the specialist emergency care hospital is built at Sutton Hospital, this is likely to be the best option in terms of accessibility for the local community.


“In the more densely populated areas of Merton and Sutton, many people would be likely to be able to travel to Sutton Hospital or a hospital outside our combined area within 15 minutes.”


At a Merton Council meeting on Thursday (January 9) NHS bosses told Merton councillors that the majority of patients would travel to the new facility in an ambulance. This is excluding the maternity department.


Sutton is the preferred option as it is most central for the areas covered in this consultation and would therefore mean the smallest average increase of travel time.


According to Google Maps travel times on an average Friday afternoon at 2pm, this is how long a typical car journey would be to the proposed Sutton site (next to the Royal Marsden) from the centre of the areas, outlined by the NHS, in Merton.

These times do not take into account the speed of a blue light ambulance. Also, some in the North of Merton could be taken to St George’s Hospital.


Wimbledon: 29 mins to Royal Marsden, 17 mins to St Helier Hospital

Mitcham: 20 mins to Royal Marsden Hospital, 10 mins to St Helier Hospital

Morden: 16 mins to Royal Mardsen Hospital, six mins to St Helier Hospital

Colliers Wood: 23 mins to Royal Marsden Hospital, 13 mins to St Helier Hospital


Meanwhile one campaign group has criticised the NHS for not releasing information much earlier.


The consultation was launched on Wednesday (January 8) into three potential options for the location of a new specialist emergency care hospital.


But Sandra Ash from campaign group Keep Our St Helier Hospital, said she thinks leaflet drops with information about the plans should have taken place before the consultation opened.


“I was shocked to hear that they’re starting the consultation now when most people won’t have any opportunity to begin to understand what’s involved in the plans,” she said.


“They are talking about leaflet drops and if they were going to serve any purpose it would have to go out before the consultation started.


“I think it is a really dangerous idea. If they were offering a new facility in Sutton but what they are actually doing is removing acute services from Epsom and St Helier.


“They are suggesting that travel times would be hardly any longer. But the longer people are in an ambulance the more chance there is of harm, damage and death occurring.


“The demand on the ambulance service is going to be drastically increased.”

The changes will come as £500 million is set to be invested in health services in Sutton, Merton and Surrey Downs. Of this, £80 million is set to be invested in Epsom and St Helier hospitals.


A meeting of Merton Clinical Commissioning Group’s (CCG) governing body heard that leaflet drops are set to take place between Monday, January 13, and Saturday, January 18. These are set to target all homes in the catchment area.


At the meeting on Wednesday, Dr Andrew Murray (pictured below, centre), Merton CCG chair and a Wimbledon GP, said that even if the Sutton option is chosen, both Epsom and St Helier will have a 24-hour urgent treatment centres.

Merton CCG meeting

Pic credit: Tara O'Connor


And he disputed claims that beds will be reduced in the proposed plans, saying that there would be an increase of four beds across the area.


In response to consultation concerns he added: “The whole point of the consultation is sharing information with patients and the public. We had not formally agreed that we would go out [with the consultation] until Monday (January 6).


“Most people need it explained in a clear way that means something to them. That is why we’re going out and doing public meetings in all sorts of different formats.”


But the leader of Merton Council, Councillor Stephen Alambritis said the council would continue to fight against the downgrading of St Helier.


He said: “The plans being put forward are terrible. A clear wish to downgrade St Helier Hospital has been declared under cover of a ‘consultation exercise’.


“How can people in Merton have any faith in this at all? A vanity project, miles from those in greatest need, cannot be the answer to our health issues. The effect on Merton’s residents is just seen as irrelevant and the council will fight this every step of the way.


“It is critical that everyone who depends on St Helier Hospital has their say in its future by responding to this consultation.” 

The consultation will run until April 1. For more information visit: https://improvinghealthcaretogether.org.uk/

January 10, 2020