Update from Chris Grayling MP. 7th July 2020
I am writing to update you about the latest, disappointing news about the future of Epsom Hospital and the Epsom and St Helier Trust.
Last Friday the leadership of the NHS in Surrey and London endorsed the provisional plan to build the proposed new hospital at Sutton, rather than Epsom or St Helier. Whilst I have always understood the attraction of building a brand new centre for the area, and the reasons why the NHS has focused on Sutton as it is half way between Epsom and St Helier, I do think that the choice of site is the wrong one.
I have been putting pressure on the local leadership team in the past few weeks to hold back for a little longer on deciding between the sites, particularly in the context of the pandemic.
In particular, while I think that a £500 million investment in better facilities is good for local people, there was quite a big difference between the costs of building at Sutton and doing so at Epsom, which was estimated to be much cheaper. My concern is that there may not now be sufficient funding available to guarantee that the project can go ahead at Sutton. By contrast, the Trust can almost certainly still afford to build at Epsom and still fulfil the clinical model and also make some provision for potential additional capacity following the pandemic. The expectation in the construction industry today is that costs will rise following the pandemic. Unless a fully workable vaccine is found for the virus, some degree of social distancing will remain necessary for the time being and this must be factored into the projected costings. Construction at Epsom remains the lowest cost option for the Trust and remains the best value for money. On the basis of the current situation, I still believe Epsom is the most affordable option.
In addition, the main reason that Sutton was recommended over Epsom was because of the whole system impact of building at Epsom – that London hospitals would need extra capacity as well because patients currently treated at St Helier would go there rather than Epsom. However, the Epsom and St Helier project team has now done modelling based on needing an extra 20% of beds to provide capacity to deal with a future pandemic. This is sensible. But it is also likely that additional investment will be required at the London teaching hospitals for the same reason. If spare capacity has to be built at St George’s anyway, following the pandemic, and this capacity would be available for normal use in normal times, there is no reason for the cost of this extra capacity to be included in the project plan.
The Trust now has to go through a long further process of finalising its plans, and in my view the option of building at Epsom may still have to return to the table for financial reasons.
But in the meantime, let me explain what this means for patients and for Epsom. The new hospital at Sutton would take over all the high-end work that the Trust does. This means that almost all of the treatments that are currently done for patients from this area at St Helier would move to Sutton. That would in fact bring them closer to home for most people.
It would mean that the maternity unit at Epsom would move to Sutton in the late 2020s, and that blue light ambulances would go to Sutton as well. But Epsom would continue to do most of what it does at the moment, including day surgery and the elective orthopaedic centre, as well as a lot of inpatient treatment aimed particularly at the elderly. Most of what the A&E department does will also remain. So, the hospital is in no danger of closing or disappearing.
I will continue to update you as things develop further, and I will be keeping a very close eye on the work being done. On the one hand I am pleased to see a real modernisation of our local facilities, and a smart new centre locally. For those who do not know, the Sutton site is up on the Downs near the end of the “mad mile” on the A217. But at the same time I would have much preferred Epsom to be chosen, and I do think that the case for Epsom remains.
Email from Dr Russell Hills, Clinical Chair, Surrey Downs CCG & Matthew Tait, Chief Officer, Surrey Heartlands ICS to local Councillors
Following on from our email on 18 December, we are writing to let you know that today health leaders from NHS Surrey Downs, Sutton and Merton Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) have agreed to launch a public consultation on proposals to invest £500 million to improve hospital services.
The three CCGs met in public today and agreed to launch a public consultation on 8 January on three potential options for the location of a brand-new specialist emergency care hospital – on the Epsom, St Helier or Sutton hospital sites. Sutton was agreed by the CCGs as a preferred option for the consultation, but health leaders were clear that all three options could be delivered by the NHS.
You will be aware from our previous update that the new 21st century hospital facility would bring together six services for the most unwell patients, as well as births in hospital. All three options would see the majority of services (85%) staying at Epsom Hospital and St Helier Hospital, with an investment of at least £80 million in the current buildings. Both hospitals would run round the clock, 365 days a year, with urgent treatment centres, inpatient and outpatient services.
The CCGs have set out their preferred option for the new state-of-the-art hospital facility to be Sutton Hospital, next to the Royal Marsden specialist cancer hospital. Services provided at the specialist emergency care hospital would include A&E, critical care, emergency surgery, births in hospital and inpatient children’s beds. The consultation proposals explain that this option would have the greatest benefit for the most people, the least overall impact on travel for older people and those from deprived communities, while also having the smallest increase in average travel time for the most people. It would also be the easiest and fastest to build – taking around four years, rather than up to seven for the alternative options.
We are now urging people to give their views between Wednesday 8 January and Wednesday 1 April 2020. As well as responding on line directly to the consultation questionnaire, people can get involved through a whole range of different ways designed to make sure the NHS hears as many voices, from as many communities as possible, including those who find it difficult to go to meetings or respond in writing.
We hope you will actively encourage local communities to take part in the consultation process. You can read a full copy of our engagement plans here and below we have briefly outlined some of the ways people can get involved with the consultation and talk to us out our proposals:
• A series of 9 public listening events- open invites to share information on proposed options for change, answer specific questions from the public to increase understanding of the consultation and proposals, as well as invite and listen to feedback and encourage people to respond to the consultation questionnaire.
• Pop-up stalls in busy places- to raise awareness of the consultation, share information and encourage people to ask questions and complete the consultation questionnaire.
• Funding voluntary groups- to help communities with various protected characteristics and seldom heard groups engage with the consultation.
• Targeted outreach work- engagement activities with groups such as older people and deprived communities as well as seldom heard groups like people with learning disabilities.
• Telephone surveys- based on the questions within the consultation questionnaire and will target a representative range of views from the combined geographies and neighbouring areas of those who may not otherwise contribute to the consultation
Please do let us know if you would like further information on specific engagement activities taking place in your area.
A copy of the full consultation document and a consultation questionnaire can be accessed from improvinghealthcaretogether.org.uk.
We are determined to make sure its consultation plans are as thorough, wide-ranging and transparent as possible. The “Improving Healthcare Together Programme” has been awarded a ‘best practice’ standard for its public consultation plan from an independent organisation called ‘The Consultation Institute’. The consultation documentation has also been approved by the ‘Plain English Society’
We are keen to emphasise that no decisions will be made on the future of Epsom and St Helier hospitals until the spring/summer when the CCGs will consider the views of local people and all the clinical and financial evidence.
As ever we would be happy to meet with you or arrange a phone call to talk through the planned engagement activities and the consultation process.
Dr Russell Hills, Clinical Chair, Surrey Downs CCG
Matthew Tait, Chief Officer, Surrey Heartlands ICS
Update from Chris Grayling M.P. (20th December 2019)
I am writing to let you know that the local NHS have announced that they intend to go ahead with the consultation about where they will build their new acute hospital early in the New Year, after a final meeting between the local GP groups to confirm their recommendations. At present they plan to recommend that Sutton should host the new unit.
I intend to challenge this assumption on two grounds, particularly the accessibility of the Sutton site and the fact that the NHS’s estimated cost for the three site options shows that it is far cheaper to site the new unit at Epsom than it is in Sutton. I understand the logic of siting the new unit half way between St Helier and Epsom, and also of close working with the Marsden, and from the feedback I had previously I know that many people are happy with that option. But it is also the case that Epsom is sited much more centrally in the area covered by the Trust, and it has much better transport links. And is significantly cheaper, based on the very limited financial information published so far.
I will be doing my own detailed consultation about the issue across the area early in the New Year so I know exactly what the majority view is. In the meantime I will be asking the NHS to justify their recommendation based on cost and accessibility.
I should, though, stress that under the proposals we are being asked to consider most of what Epsom Hospital does at the moment will remain in Epsom. And reports that have been circulating in recent weeks saying that the acute services at Epsom and St Helier will close next year are completely inaccurate. Any changes to our hospital services resulting from the consultation will not happen until the middle of the next decade.
I will provide a more detailed update in the New Year.
Finally can I once again wish you a Happy Christmas and a happy 2020. We are lucky to live in an area with a strong sense of community, and I am particularly grateful to all of those volunteers who are working across the Christmas period. Our local churches, local Islamic and Hindu and other faith groups, as well as a myriad of local charities, do incredible work locally and help make life easier for those facing challenges in our area. I know they will carry on doing so in 2020.
Follow this link to open a pdf of the latest communication from Chief Executive, Daniel Elkeles. (29th May 2019)