Future of St Helier hospital

The future of St Helier hospital was one of the topics discussed last night at the Health and Wellbeing Scrutiny Committee. The meeting also investigated the need to protect the elderly from being cheated out of cash by their helpers.

Concern over the future of hospital has been growing since St George’s hospital in Tooting pulled out of the bid to merge with St Helier, citing uncertainty over the NHS review into hospital services, called Better Services Better Value.  There are fears the review could recommend one out of every three hospitals will lose its’ maternity and A&E services.

I asked Matthew Hopkins, chief executive of the Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, to give reassurances about how well-placed St Helier was to avoid these services being axed. He replied: “If [the review] is about quality and accessibility then St Helier is well-placed.” However he added that if quality is not the primary factor, St Helier could be “at risk.”


He went on to add meat on the bones of his argument, citing St Helier maternity services as having one of the lowest para-natal death rates, and that the quality of A&E can also be demonstrated. It would appear this was as reassuring as he could be, given that the decisions are being made at a higher level. Mr Hopkins said that the Trust were well-prepared to fight its’ case and would “maintain our own destiny.”

Mr Hopkins also provided more detail about the St Helier redevelopment, providing convincing assurances that it would go ahead as planned. Sutton Guardian press reports had raised fears that the merger disappointment might mean the redevelopment, but Mr Hopkins stated categorically this is not the case. The redevelopment will proceed.

It is slightly delayed because building work has overrun on the Wallington Health Centre which has led to a knock-on effect in that services at Ferguson House in St Helier couldn’t temporarily locate to Sutton hospital in a complicated merry-go-round! The committee was assured that Wallington would be complete in August and that would allow the other services to move and the redevelopment to begin.

I sincerely hope there are no more delays because both the public and St Helier staff need to know the hospital and all its’ services are safe. We have heard that staff morale is dipping and that needs to be addressed. Unfortunately the hospital will be kept in suspense until possibly the end of the year over the outcome of the  Better Services Better Value review, so in the meantime it is incumbent on the NHS Trust to do everything in its’ power to communicate professionally and raise confidence and morale.

I think it is important that we are not passive observers of the NHS review, but instead use this time to actively campaign for the hospital, winning the case about the quality of its’ services and demonstrating the extent of popular support for St Helier.


Moving on to the need to protect elderly and those needing care from financial abuse (agenda item 4, Safeguards in the Personalisation Agenda, 15th March 2012) , this is an issue that has been monitored by the Health and Wellbeing Committee and the Audit Committee for at least the past two years.

Yesterday’s meeting addressed procedures covering ‘direct payments’ – Council money received by the elderly and disabled which the resident then uses to purchase care. This is known as ‘personalisation’, a notion developed by the last government and extended since 2010.

The committee heard that reports of financial abuse had fallen 12% over the past year. I inquired how many cases this referred to, and was alarmed to hear that the Council had received over 700 “alerts” which included 165 cases of possible fraud. Several cases are on their way to court at the moment.

This is an issue that affects all Councils, but it is extremely important that we are looking at how to prevent the defrauding of our most vulnerable citizens.


Another issue from last nights’ meeting that deserves a mention here, is Boris Johnson’s decision to “top slice” a whacking 3% off Sutton’s public health budget, amounting to £200,000. This is money the Council and its’ health partners would have spent locally on delivering health services to residents, which has now been siphoned off to City Hall coffers.

Sutton already has one of the lowest per-head spending on public health of any London Council, due to the relatively small amount of money (‘settlement’) we get from government which is calculated by remote civil servants in Whitehall. We can ill-afford to lose more cash that is needed to reduce health inequalities.

Fiona Harris, a joint consultant in public health, told the committee that this top-slicing (affecting all London authorities) had been agreed by the Health Improvement Board which included local council representatives, but the expectation was that the amount of top-slicing would be a lot less than the amount we now discover is disappearing out of our budgets.

Boris plans to use the money to tackle alcohol, obesity, the early diagnosis of cancer and data-sharing. The first three issues are what Sutton would have spent the money on, but we would have done it in a way targeted at the needs of local residents. I expressed concern that City Hall would squander the cash on lavish advertising campaigns rather than specifically target residents in the way Councils can do. Executive councillor Simon Wales agreed, calling the move a “retrograde step.”

The committee agreed to ask for more details about how this money was going to be spent, and to ensure ongoing monitoring and scrutinising to satisfy ourselves it is money well-spent.