Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Answers to our questions for the Epsom-St Helier Trust uncensored!

The election campaign is over but the fight to ensure the future of St Helier Hospital and all other vital healthcare services in South-West London continues. While the KOSHH Party didn't win any seats on Merton or Sutton councils, the candidates all did well in the polls, campaigned hard, raised awareness about our health services among countless people and made St Helier Hospital and the role local councillors can play in ensuring its future a bona fide election issue.

During the campaign, we put a series of questions to the Epsom-St Helier Trust after we felt this interview in the Wimbledon Guardian with the trust's new Chief Executive raised more questions than it answered. At last, we have answers to our questions. Here they are, posted without futher comment and completely uncensored.


Firstly, I would like to say thank you for submitting these questions to us. We know that you are passionate about St Helier Hospital, and – having met some of your candidates at the public listening event we held in Merton earlier in the year – we hope that you can already see how committed we are to openness and transparency, as well as the day job of providing high quality care to our patients. 

Our absolute priority is to provide great care to every patient, every day – and over the last three years we have performed very strongly against the standards the government expects of us. At the same time, we have made great headway in overcoming a significant deficit of almost £20 million and we plan to break even this year. That is an incredible achievement, and something that we as a Trust are very proud of.

However, we also understand that our estate is of great importance to local people, including our patients, visitors and staff. As such, we have provided detailed answers to your questions below. 

In addition, once the local elections are completed later this month, we would like to invite you to visit St Helier, meet with our Chief Executive and go through any of the detail.

Has the calculation of £78 million for upgrades to St Helier Hospital allowed for inflation over the next five years?

The proposed investment of £78 million will be used across our hospitals, and is based on what our analysis shows we can afford during the next five years, whilst still meeting our financial obligations (such as paying staff and purchasing equipment). 

As such, within this proposed figure we will need to allow for VAT (where we cannot reclaim it), 
professional fees, and any inflation to the costs involved in construction. As always, we will make sure that we are getting the best value for money, so that our patients and the taxpayer will receive maximum benefit from any investment that we make.

Given that 12m has already been spent, can we please be told what this money has funded?

Every year, we spend approximately £9 million on improving and maintaining our hospital buildings as well as funding new state-of-the-art equipment.

In the last year alone, we saw benefits at all of our sites from improvements to the roof at Epsom Hospital, to new equipment in the operating theatre at St Helier. 

You can see a full breakdown of previous plans at

In addition to the £9 million of improvements we funded last year, we were also awarded £4.5  million from the NHS Trust Development Authority to fund service transfers from Sutton Hospital to our two main sites (including the necessary improvement works at Epsom and St Helier). This has allowed us to create a combined outpatient department in Ferguson House and a new state of the art urology centre at Epsom, while improving the existing facilities at Sutton for blood-testing clinics, pain and chronic fatigue clinics and increasing the capacity of our car parks at both of the main sites.

The major refurbishment projects included:

• Completion of the urgent care centre at St Helier;

• £450,000 on general ward upgrades, including refurbishing the coronary care unit and the 
kitchen on Buckley ward at Epsom Hospital; 

• £250,000 creating additional single rooms for patients at both Epsom and St Helier, which offer increased privacy and help to protect our sickest patients from spreading or contracting infections; 

• £1.1 million on general maintenance at St Helier Hospital, including replacing old windows 
and roof maintenance across the hospital buildings;

• £100,000 on improving the system for piping gases (such as oxygen) to patients across 

Can we please have a detailed breakdown of how the remaining £78 million will be spent? Is it a loan?

Early plans for how we will spend the proposed £78 million are currently going through the process of being approved by our Trust Board as part of our five-year business planning process. As you would expect, we are working closely with our clinical commissioning groups and the NHS Trust Development Authority during this process.

Investing such a significant amount of money into NHS services over a number of years requires a rigorous process for individual business cases, including external approval when required. It is likely that over the coming five years, there will be times when we will need to go through further approval processes (particularly for the larger projects we undertake). As such, we are not in a position to release a detailed breakdown at this stage. 

However, please be assured that – as in previous years – our plans will be targeted at improving patient care either through new equipment, upgraded wards and facilities or specific projects such as the creation of a new eye-unit at St Helier. We will keep the public informed of all major upgrades as they progress.

Why is there no mention in the Sutton Guardian article of the role of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in hospital spending? Given the CCGs have been assigned the task of reducing spending across multiple hospitals in SW London, it seems curious that they are conspicuous by their absence from the Sutton Guardian article.

As an acute Trust, we work really closely with all of our clinical commissioning groups and healthcare partners, and our Chief Executive certainly did make reference to their important role in her interview with the Sutton Guardian. We are always happy to talk to the Sutton Guardian though, so if there are burning questions you think they should be asking, please do let them know.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Letterbox musings from our candidates

If there's one thing every candidate can relate to on the campaign trail, it is the joys of letterboxes. As we all put pieces of paper through thousands of doors, we all get to know the letterboxes of the boroughs very well indeed. 

Frances Cornford, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton West, writes: "Letterboxes I have known - such as the too-small letterbox. How is anyone supposed to post an A4 or A5 letter? The annoying vertically opening letterbox, the ground level letterbox - is it a good idea to make a postman grovel to deliver your mail? And, finally, the evil modern letterbox with layers of bristles and a too-strongly-hinged inner flap. Do you never wonder why your letters are always mangled? One more evening of leafletting to go! Hope you are all voting for someone NHS-friendly!"

Dave Ash, KOSHH Party Candidate for Cheam muses on some of the letterboxes he has seen on his travels across his ward:

"Ooh, my back! Oh, and why has my bag swung around and is now in front of me?"

"Six out of 10 for difficulty."

"Always the thrill of not knowing what side the hinge is on or how strong the spring might be."

"Oh, how I love letterboxes like that!"

But seriously, the KOSHH Party candidates would like to thank the people of the wards in which they are standing for taking the time to read the campaign material and think about the future of St Helier Hospital. It has been a long and tiring campaign but also a very rewarding one and we are delighted that so many people have been receptive to our message and are prepared to help fight for the future of all hospitals across Merton and Sutton.

Regardless of tomorrow's election outcome, we feel we have achieved so much over these past few weeks in ensuring St Helier Hospital and wider health services have become an issue and a talking point in this election.

Twas the night before election day...

L to R: David Murray (Wallington South), Frances Cornford (Sutton West), Sandra Ash (Wimbledon Park), 
Dr Tiz North (Sutton South), David Ash (Raynes Park), Dave Ash (Cheam)

Twas the night before election day, and all over the borough

Candidates are being incredibly thorough.

And the KOSHH Party is no exception

Still campaigning until dawn's inception.

Our candidates wish they were snug in their beds

But St Helier Hospital thoughts fill their heads.

For they'll not rest until it is secure

As a result, they've had much to endure.

Their feet are aching, they all need hot baths

After walking the wards' endless footpaths.

Thousands of homes got leaflets through doors

Explaining why healthcare is a councillor's cause.

Our work has been hard thanks to many a Tory

Whose letters to residents tell a different story.

How do they know St Helier Hospital isn't under threat?

The strategy announcement hasn't happened yet.

We still waiting on that, at least until June.

Will the CCGs change their tune?

Cuts to services are "very likely", they say.

Imagine if St Helier's A&E went away.

And kids' services and renal and maternity.

Gone from south London for all eternity.

Because of this, we can't stand idly by.

The KOSHH Party urges all councillors to try

And fight for our hospital's survival.

We want unity here, we don't need a rival.

Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, UKIP or Green

Or any political stripe in between,

Every councillor can play their part.

Don't tell us you don't know where to start.

You can lobby the CCGs - it's our money they spend.

We will fight for our hospital to the end.

If you have a party colleague who's an MP

Lobby them too. Have them over for tea!

Tell them about the concerns of people near you

Who need the NHS, as we all do.

The KOSHH Party is committed to healthcare for all.

We will not take our eye off the ball.

Without our hospitals, there's a hole in the community.

But with loud voices and cross-party unity,

Councils can play a vital role

In ensuring there isn't a hospital-sized hole.

Without St Helier Hospital, life becomes rougher.

And, on top of all that, local businesses suffer.

Ambulances will spend longer in traffic.

For women in labour, this will cause havoc.

The hospital issue remains a hot button

For all the good people of Merton and Sutton.

If we can save the hospital, there will be jubilation.

See you tomorrow at the polling station!

Photography by Paul McMillan

Friday, 16 May 2014

Our Sutton West candidate has received some interesting campaign literature...

Frances says: "When every party says they want to save St Helier and
brandishes their own petition, it is difficult to know what to believe."

Frances Cornford, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton West in the Sutton Council elections, discusses the election campaign literature that she has received in recent weeks:

I’ve had a lot of election literature coming through my door in the last few weeks. Sutton South ward, where I live, is currently split between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives with two Lib Dems and one Tory councillor. Lib Dem literature predominates and the claim to be fighting to save St Helier hospital looms large in their publications.

In one leaflet, they celebrate the demise of the Better Services Better Value review that proposed the closure of St Helier’s A&E, maternity, children’s hospital and renal services. Indeed they even give themselves the credit for saving the hospital claiming that:  
"Sutton Lib Dems and Paul Burstow MP have been at the forefront of the campaign to save A&E, Maternity and Children’s units at St Helier. 

Their campaign and petition of over 19,000 signatures was a major part of the reason plans to close our services were dropped."

In fact, Better Services Better Value was dropped because GPs in Epsom voted to remove themselves from the process and it had little to do with Liberal Democrats in Sutton. Their leaflet also fails to mention that the current threat to St Helier is largely due to the vast top down reorganisation of the NHS and the £20 billion of so-called efficiency savings which Paul Burstow has helped to pilot through the House of Commons as a Junior Health Minister.

After studiously ignoring the threat to St Helier in their early leaflets, the local Tories have now shamelessly jumped on the St Helier bandwagon. Perhaps having Dr Tiz North, running for the Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party in Sutton South has forced them to at least acknowledge the issue, although their promises are questionable to say the least.

Prospective Tory councillors pledge to continue the fight to protect St Helier and Conservative parliamentary candidate Paul Scully even has his own petition. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this breathtaking hypocrisy considering the Tories have lied consistently about their plans for the NHS. 

No more top down reorganisation, no cuts, no more closures of A&E and maternity units are just some of the election promises that were ripped up as soon as they got into power. Still, I am constantly astonished by the level of mendacity required to claim you are trying to save your local hospital while the party you represent destroys the entire health service. At the very least, the Sutton and Merton Conservative local government candidates should pledge to lobby their colleagues in Westminster over threats to our health services that will affect the whole community.

When every party says they want to save St Helier and brandishes their own petition, it is difficult to know what to believe. All you can do is look at what they have actually done. 

In the last four years, the coalition government has passed a bill that removes the duty of the Secretary of State to provide a universal health service. 

They have imposed £20 billion of cuts on the NHS so that £370 million of savings have to be made in South West London alone. 

They have opened up the NHS to private companies, with 70% of new contracts going to private providers. 

They are closing down A&Es and maternity units across London. All this is being done with no discussion, no democratic mandate and no public consultation. While their leaflets may trumpet support for St Helier Hospital, the Tories and Lib Dems are dismantling the NHS. And no NHS means no St Helier Hospital as we know it.

Photography by Paul McMillan

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Clinical Commissioning Groups: Local bodies that need to be held to account by local people

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) control how our money is spent in our local hospitals but few people know what they do or how they can be held accountable. This concerns Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party (KOSHH Party) candidates for Merton and Sutton enormously.

“The future of St Helier Hospital is not in its own hands - it is South West London CCGs who make the big decisions,” says Frances Cornford, who is running as a KOSHH Party candidate in the Sutton West ward. “The CCGs have to make £370m in cuts across SW London and their strategy won’t be revealed until June or July - after the local elections.”

Does anyone know what CCGs are supposed to do?

CCGs are local bodies tasked with spending our money on our hospitals. This system can only be effective if the CCGs are transparent, the members of CCGs have no conflicts of interest, such as financial interests in private healthcare providers, and if their meetings are held in public, times, dates and agendas widely publicised and they are held at times which allow large numbers to attend.

Click here for a link to the SW London CCG's website, representing CCGs from Merton, Sutton, Croydon, Kingston, Richmond and Wandsworth. If you scroll down to the bottom of the homepage, you can find links to the six CCG's websites and from there, you will then have to go through each individual website to find dates and times. Why does the SW London CCG website not act as a one-stop shop with a calendar of events for all its CCGs? 

The SW London CCG response to this is: "CCGs are independent statutory bodies and advertise their own meetings on their own sites." But the SW London CCG website is used to share information on behalf of all CCGs on other matters. So why not CCG meeting times? Curiouser and curiouser...

Meeting times and dates seldom, if ever, appear in the local press, let alone on the SW London CCG website. This simply isn't good enough.

Does anyone know when their local CCG is next meeting?

The Sutton CCG was meant to be meeting today, Wednesday 7 May, at 2pm. However, this has been postponed until June 18. As far as we know, the location will still be Priory Crescent, Sutton SM3 8LR and it will still be held at 2pm but it is difficult to find out information about any CCG meeting. 

KOSHH Party candidates are dismayed that meetings are poorly publicised by CCGs and the timings are inconvenient.

“Holding a meeting at 2pm on a weekday means many people will be unable to attend, such as those who work full time or are looking after their young children during the day,” says David Murray, KOSHH Party candidate for Wallington South.  

So how come Surrey Downs CCG manages to be more accessible?

KOSHH Party candidates were interested to learn that Surrey Downs CCG, which publicly broke away from the failed Better Service, Better Value review, will be holding a public event in conjunction with Epsom and Ewell Conservatives on Tuesday 10 June at 7.30pm.

“This shows it is possible for CCGs to hold events in the evening when more people can attend,” says Dave Ash, KOSHH Party candidate for Cheam. “Why won’t our local CCGs learn from Surrey Downs and hold meetings at times when people are likely to be able to attend? Why would they make it difficult for so many people to attend?”.

What can local councillors do about all this?

There is no reason why local councillors cannot play an important part in lobbying CCGs in defence of our local health services. 

If elected, KOSHH Party councillors will lobby local CCGs to better publicise their meeting times and venues and encourage more meetings in evenings and on weekends so that a broader cross-section of the community can attend. 

We will lobby for CCG meeting times to be advertised in all GP surgeries across Merton and Sutton.

We will also continuously lobby CCGs for greater transparency, constantly remind them of the importance of preserving all vital services at St Helier Hospital, attend CCG meetings and publicly report on the meetings' outcomes. 

We urge all candidates to join us in these promises.

Photography by Petr Kratochvil

Monday, 5 May 2014

Celebrating International Day of the Midwife

Today is International Day of the Midwife. On Twitter, people are celebrating these wonderful people by sharing stories of how they have brought so many people into the world safely and compassionately. And the midwives who work at St Helier Hospital are no exception - like so many midwives around the world, they bring new life into the world and save lives.

The standard of care by St Helier Hospital's midwives is outstanding. Leading the way for mothers-to-be are Louise Simmonds, Sally Sivas, Suzanne Bouchard, Gina Brockwell, Heather Crosskey, Irene Eastwood,  Jeanette Hennessy, Mandy James, Annette Hunter, Margaret Joyce, Siew Khoo, Helen McCrann, Maria Mills Shaw, Anne Walker, Neelam Worthington, Patience Ohikhena and Sher Morris.

On this very special day, the KOSHH Party candidates would like to take a moment to salute the fantastic maternity staff at St Helier Hospital and to pledge our ongoing support for the amazing work you do every day.

Illustration by Karen Arnold

Some important questions for the Epsom-St Helier Trust

World Press Freedom Day has been observed for another year. And, thanks to the internet, the good news is that it is getting easier to be part of the free press in Britain. While we were disappointed that the Sutton Guardian profile of Chrisha Alagaratnam, new Chief Executive of the Epsom-St Helier Trust did not include answers to important questions, we were heartened to see that people were keen to jump on board in the comments section and challenge the information in the article.

Over on Twitter, the KOSHH Party Twitter account (@KOSHHParty) asked Ms Alagaratnam a few questions in relation to the Sutton Guardian article. Originally £219m had been earmarked to fund improvements at St Helier and then it was announced that this would be reduced to £90m over five years. In the Sutton Guardian article, it said that £78m would be spent. So our first question was, quite simply, what's going on?

Ms Alagaratnam responded promptly thus: "£90m was at Feb 13/14. £78m is from the new financial year 14/15 for the next five years as we have already begun investing."

So that would mean that £12m has already been spent on upgrades to St Helier Hospital. Thus, we asked additional questions over Twitter. We received a tweet from the trust's communications department account requesting that we ask any further questions via email. Certainly over email, nobody is not limited to the 140-character format of Twitter for questions and answers but we prefer a more transparent approach.

With the principle of transparency as our guiding light, we publicly ask the following questions of the Epsom-St Helier Trust.

1. Has the calculation of £78m for upgrades to St Helier Hospital allowed for inflation over the next five years?

2. Given that 12m has already been spent, can we please be told what this money has funded?

3. Can we please have a detailed breakdown of how the remaining £78m will be spent?

4. Is this £78m in the form of a loan that will have to be paid back?

5. Why is there no mention in the Sutton Guardian article of the role of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in hospital spending? Given the CCGs have been assigned the task of reducing spending across multiple hospitals in SW London, it seems curious that they are conspicuous by their absence from the Sutton Guardian article.

We look forward to answers to these questions from the Epsom-St Helier Trust. Unlike Twitter, there is plenty of room for extensive responses in the comments section of this blog post.

If elected to Merton and Sutton Councils, KOSHH Party candidates promise to publicly hold all decision-makers to account in relation to the future of St Helier Hospital and urge all candidates to promise to do the same. We want to see a future in which Merton and Sutton councillors from across the political spectrum unite in support of our hospital.  

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

KOSHH Party candidates urge everyone to rock the vote!

The Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party (KOSHH Party) candidates urge everyone who is eligible to enrol to vote so they can participate in the May 22 local elections.

“The deadline for registering to vote is May 6 and we encourage everyone who is serious about saving St Helier Hospital to register,” says David Murray, KOSHH Party candidate for Wallington South, in the Sutton local elections. “This is a great chance to tell all the main parties that the hospital is the biggest issue facing Merton and Sutton.”

If you haven't yet registered to vote, click on this link - it is quick and easy to be part of this country's tradition of democracy. The KOSHH Party urges all voters in Merton and Sutton to think very carefully about who to support at the ballot box.

David Ash, KOSHH Party candidate for Raynes Park in Merton, is disappointed by the Merton Liberal Democrat manifesto for the forthcoming election. “There is not a single mention of St Helier Hospital in the Liberal Democrat’s Merton manifesto,” he says. “We agree that policies about safe streets, strong communities, heritage preservation and open government are important but without a commitment to preserving vital health services, such as St Helier Hospital, this rhetoric is meaningless.”

He adds: “Nobody voted for the top-down NHS reorganisation that David Cameron promised would not happen, nor for the sneaky contracting out of hospital services that is already happening at St Helier Hospital and all over England. You cannot trust the government or NHS England or the local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to ensure services at St Helier and across the whole of the NHS remain free at point of need.”

Sandra Ash, KOSHH Party candidate for Wimbledon Park in Merton, says she is still waiting for an explanation from Conservative councillor, Oonagh Moulton as to why she thinks St Helier Hospital’s services are safe: “Given that the CCGs have said they intend to use the same flawed financial and clinical reasoning they used to justify the proposed downgrading of St Helier Hospital under the failed BSBV plan, it seems inevitable they will again come to the same flawed conclusion.”

Frances Cornford, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton West, says: “We want all political parties running for office in these local elections to make a public commitment to preserving St Helier Hospital's services. We want cross-party support for our hospital at a local government level - this is the only way for our councillors that are aligned with the major parties in Sutton and Merton to send a strong message to their colleagues in Westminster.”

Monday, 28 April 2014

Why the St Helier Hospital Renal Unit is important

Kidneys: They're not sexy but they are necessary...

Dr Tiz North, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton South, tells us why St Helier Hospital's Renal Unit is an essential service for the local community.

In 1964, the Renal Unit opened at St.Helier hospital and dialysed it’s first two patients. It was one of the first hospitals in the country to do so. 

The unit was the brainchild of Dr Willie Rogers, father of the famous architect Sir Richard Rogers. At that time there were only two consultants in kidney medicine and now there are
14 renal consultants supplying specialist advice at St Helier Hospital and to satellite units in the England's south-east.

From dialysing patients in kidney failure, it moved on to transplantation, a service which sadly has since moved to St.George’s’. However surgeons still perform dialysis-related surgery at St Helier. This allows patients in kidney failure to have extended lives.

Tucked away behind St Helier's Renal Unit is the South West Thames Renal Research Unit. This unit was funded and built by charitable donations and is completely independent of any university or drug company. It produces ground-breaking research into the causes of kidney disease, the knowledge of which then is used to produce new treatments. The research unit is of such high calibre that it has produced nine PhD doctors, who have gone on to become renal consultants across the country with two of them working at St.Helier.

The Renal Unit is indeed the jewel of the crown for St Helier Hospital as many of the patients it supports will testify. However it is not a standalone unit insofar as the consultants support emergency admissions in General Medicine as well as to the Renal Unit. These doctors are also on hand to give advice to the rest of the hospital. 

Residents of Sutton, Merton & Carshalton are very lucky to have a unit of this calibre on their doorstep and long may it last. Let us hope that our local commissioners of healthcare will realise this too. The councils of Merton and Sutton can both play an important role in lobbying commissioners to ensure this service remains at St Helier Hospital and is properly funded.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Dr Tiz North tells why she stands for St Helier Hospital

The KOSHH Party Sutton candidates at St Helier Hospital. 
L to R: Frances Cornford, David Murray, Dave Ash and Dr Tiz North

Dr Tiz North, a consultant radiologist at St Helier Hospital shares her statement of purpose about why she is running on the KOSHH Party ticket in the May 22 local elections.

I believe that the population surrounding Epsom and St Helier Hospitals deserve to be treated by a local hospital trust which has all the secondary services of an Acute District General Hospital.

First, some background to the current situation facing St Helier Hospital... Over the past 30 years, there have been constant attempts by politicians to close St Helier, an excellent hospital with a good reputation. This has sprung out of the belief that there are too many hospital beds in London and therefore several of the outer London District General Hospitals should close.

Indeed, there has been an overall reduction in the number of beds throughout the capital thanks mainly to modern technology which allows day case surgery and intervention by minimal techniques. These advances result in shorter hospital stays. This shift has been led by the clinicians performing these services. It has not been led by politicians. Likewise, the shift of tertiary services, such as transplantation, cardiac and vascular surgery, major trauma, neurosurgery, acute stroke services and paediatric surgery, have all been shifted out of Epsom and St Helier Hospitals. These services are now performed at St George's in Tooting. Again, this was all with the agreement of grassroots physicians.

But what about the present situation? Our two local hospitals, Epsom and St Helier, have been pared down to the essential core services. This includes busy A&E departments, Paediatrics, Maternity, General Surgery (including cancer surgery), Eye Surgery, Urology, Orthopaedics, General Medicine (including diabetes, renal services, palliative care, care of the elderly and dermatology). Because of this wide spread of specialties, both hospitals can cater for the majority of common surgical and medical conditions. This attracts high calibre junior doctors into the surgical and medical rotation schemes as well as students from St George's Medical School.

What could happen in the future? If any of the specialties, especially A&E, Paediatrics or Maternity, were removed from either Epsom or St Helier, a domino situation would arise. If there are no patients admitted to the wards for acute medical or surgical treatment via A&E, this means the hospital loses training recognition by the Royal Colleges and the withdrawal of junior doctors. These doctors would be replaced by doctors in non-training posts, mostly from abroad. A lack of patients means a lack of teaching cases and this would have a negative effect on the presence of medical students. The general downgrading of the hospital means it would not attract top quality consultants and overall patient care could suffer.

Where would the patients be treated if St Helier Hospital was downgraded? The Better Service, Better Value (BSBV) programme may be defunct in name but the SW London Collaborative Commissioning Groups (SWLCCG) is simply the programme's latest incarnation. This group believes that much of the work can be done locally in patients' homes and by GPs. This is despite the fact that GPs are already under too much pressure and more than 50% of GPs are women, many of whom want to work part-time. On top of this, there is not the back-up in the community because there is a shortage of district nurses. 

So, what would be the new reality for patients in our community? In reality, what would happen is that more patients than ever would descend on St George's A&E in Tooting. The physicians there have been quite vocal about not wanting this to happen. This is understandable as they would like to concentrate on the tertiary services they already provide, as well as providing secondary services to their own local population. Like the area surrounding St Helier Hospital, the population around St George's Hospital is increasing.

Are there any solutions? Epsom and St Helier Hospitals should not be subject to any further reconfigurations. Doctors should work with local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) to ensure that across the patch every attempt is made to reduce hospital admissions and shorten hospital stays by improving health and social care outside the hospital. In turn, CCGs should support their local hospitals and not reduce funding by such an amount that they become unviable.

Both hospitals should look at their own practice to see how treatments can be improved by rapid investigation and timely intervention.

About Dr Tiz North: Dr North moved from Epsom to Sutton in 1982 and has lived in the same house in South Sutton since then. Both her children went to schools in the local area. She has been a consultant radiologist at St Helier Hospital since 1977 and was previously the Clinical Director of Diagnostic Imaging for Epsom and St Helier. Dr North was also chair of the Local Negotiating Committee. Currently, she is the Honorary Secretary of the SW London Division of the BMA and a member of Keep Our NHS Public.

Photography by Paul McMillan 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Could the Localism Act be used to save St Helier Hospital?

The internet: not just for pictures of cats...

The internet can be a haven of trolls, some say it is only good for sharing pictures of cats, and anyone who has accidentally hit "Reply All" and broadcast something embarrassing to all their colleagues has probably cursed its very existence. But the internet can and should be our friend. Indeed, something that the KOSHH Party loves about the online world is the way it can be used to share ideas.

And one such great idea has come to our attention via the magic of Facebook. Charlie Mansell, a local campaigner, suggested that the Localism Act could be used to save the hospital. Under this act, St Helier Hospital could be deemed an "Asset of Community Value". Nominations cannot be made by individuals but they can be made by parish councils or groups with a connection to the community. There is no shortage of groups connected to the St Helier community and we are confident many of them would be interested in making such a nomination for the hospital. 

The good news is that there is already an "Asset of Community Value" not too far from St Helier Hospital. In Crystal Palace, another great historic neighbourhood of south London, a former bingo hall is now such an asset. Campaigners hope that ultimately this building will become a cinema for the community.

But there is one obstacle to overcome before we get too excited about the prospect of saving our hospital using this law. The nomination needs the approval of the local council, which is Sutton Council in the case of St Helier Hospital. And Sutton Council is the freeholder for the site, which is a rather unusual situation indeed. We are all acutely aware that the St Helier Hospital site would be worth millions if it was ever sold off. Of course, selling off the site would be shortsighted and devastating to the community and, if elected, KOSHH Party councillors for Sutton would never support such a plan.

We challenge all candidates running for Sutton Council to pledge their support for a nomination for St Helier Hospital to be classified as an "Asset of Community Value" under the Localism Act. As the major parties prepare their manifestos for the Sutton campaign, we hope this will be something they all include as a promise to local residents.

Photography by clausjuntke

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Sharing information in a few tweets? Not good enough!

This week, the KOSHH Party called out the SW London Collaborative Commissioning Group (SWLCCG)on letting slip some alarming information via Twitter and a link buried in their website.

It was generally thought that in June, there would be an announcement about plans for local hospitals, including St Helier Hospital. This followed on from the disastrously wasteful Better Service, Better Value (BSBV) programme in which the "preferred option" was for St Helier to lose A&E, maternity, renal and paediatric intensive care departments.

But via their Twitter account, SWLCCG revealed that in June they will release a "five-year strategy to set the standards and outcomes commissioners want to achieve" and that "details of how they achieve them will be the next step."

Dr Tiz North, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton South challenges SWLCCG, saying that these tweets raise more questions than they answer.

She asks SWLCCG: "Is this a case of BSBV in a new guise? Will the CCGs come up with the same strategy via slightly different means, such as applying the unrealistic London Quality Standards?".

In short, St Helier Hospital is not safe. It may seem on the surface that this sort of delay and obfuscation by the SWLCCG is helpful. After all, it delays any definite announcements about closing vital services and no Coalition MP wants to go into the 2015 General Election with the threat of a massive hospital closure hanging over their heads.

But it's not that simple. There have already been cuts to services at St Helier - there is just one paediatric ward with others moved to Epsom General Hospital and Ferguson House, which was to be the winner with the now-abandoned £219m refurbishment is a shell of its former self. Add to this creeping privatisation at St Helier, such as G4S winning a £3.5m contract for driving the hospital's non-emergency ambulances, despite one of their ambulances being involved in a patient losing his life, and it is clear to see we have a death by 1,000 cuts on our hands before any major cuts even happen or are announced.

As Dr Tiz North said, "unrealistic" standards could be applied to St Helier Hospital in the future which could potentially be used to justify a downgrading or, worse still, result in a closure under Clause 119 which gives the Health Secretary the power to close hospitals within 40 days.

This may seem like a rather lofty Westminster-level issue for a local election campaign but we need grassroots activism and action from concerned residents and from Merton and Sutton councillors from all the major parties. We call on Conservative and Liberal-Democrat candidates to challenge their colleagues in the House of Commons who voted for Clause 119 and to point out to them how it could potentially threaten hospitals across England, including St Helier Hospital.

Many thanks to Radio Jackie for breaking the news. Click here to read the story.

Photography by Paul McMillan