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Hancock asks panel to assess whether to review maternity services closure



An independent panel will decide whether plans to downgrade a hospital in Surrey – by closing its consultant-led maternity services and accident and emergency department – should be reviewed.

Health secretary Matt Hancock has asked for an initial panel assessment of proposals that would strip St Helier Hospital of its maternity and emergency services. This follows the receipt of a letter from Merton Council in July that raised concerns over residents in deprived areas nearby.

Under the proposals, £500m of government funding would see St Helier and Epsom hospitals downgraded, while Belmont in the south of Sutton would take on maternity and emergency care responsibilities for the area of St Helier, Epsom and Sutton.

However, leader of Merton Council councillor Stephen Alambritis warned that the ’terrible’ plans would ‘disadvantage residents in the most deprived areas of Merton’ and benefit a more affluent place.

He continued: ‘The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a massive impact on critical health services and this must be fully taken into account by the clinical commissioning groups.’

The proposals would mean St Helier and Epsom hospitals have only nurse- or GP-led urgent treatment centres, some overnight beds for rehabilitation, some day surgery and clinics, no onsite consultant and no doctors at all overnight.

If the Independent Reconfiguration Panel decides to carry out a full review following its initial assessment, Merton Council will be able to present its case to the panel.

Mr Alambritis continued: ‘While we welcome the proposed investment, we want to ensure it is targeted at residents who need it most, which would most effectively be achieved by improving St Helier Hospital on its current site.’

A full review ‘must be done before the final decision is made by the clinical commissioning groups on the location of the specialist emergency care hospital,’ he added.

In a blog earlier this year for Nursing in Practice, Mr Alambritis said that the ‘terrible decision’ would mean that ’pregnant women in labour will be forced to travel further from home to unfamiliar surroundings to give birth’.