Thursday, February 08, 2007

Siobhain McDonagh protests against local NHS "gagging patients"

I enclose a press release from Siobhain McDonagh about yesterdays protest at St Helier about the local NHS "gagging patients".

Siobhain McDonagh protests against local NHS "gagging patients"

Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh, yesterday led a demonstration against NHS bosses for ignoring Government instructions to re-build a local hospital.

Hospital staff took leaflets, and passing cars, buses and ambulances honked their horns as around 50 protesters braved freezing conditions. The demonstration coincided with a 'stakeholders' meeting which discussed hospital plans for the area. Protesters complained that no meetings have been arranged in Siobhain's constituency, even though her constituents have the greatest health needs in the catchment area.

Ms McDonagh says:

"Over a year ago, the Government told officials to re-build the hospital on the St Helier housing estate, where the area's biggest health needs are. But the bureaucrats in charge want to move services out of London to Belmont, in leafy Surrey, closer to where well-paid managers like them live. They've kept ignoring the public on this, and they are trying to over-rule elected representatives. I arranged this protest because patients are being gagged by NHS bureaucrats."


St Helier Hospital is in Carshalton and Wallington constituency (Lib Dem), at the northern edge of the London Borough of Sutton - it is located in one of the most disadvantaged areas of South London. The catchment for the hospital trust ranges approximately from Mitcham in the north, down to the heart of Surrey, and the remainder of the catchment is extremely affluent.

Managers have admitted secret plans to shut St Helier were first drawn up in the mid-1990s, under the previous Government.

Studies circulated at public consultation meetings in 2004 originally rated St Helier as the first choice site for the area's new flagship hospital. It is where the vast majority of patients live, and the area has considerably greater health problems than elsewhere. The St Helier site was backed by the London Borough of Sutton's MPs for Carshalton, and by Mitcham and Morden's Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh.

A public consultation found that three quarters of Merton and Sutton residents backed the St Helier site.

An alternative site, two miles south of Sutton in the wealthy suburb of Belmont (but confusingly called Sutton Hospital), was rejected by local residents, the local MP for Sutton and Cheam (Lib Dem), and Councillors from all three parties. Fewer than 10% of residents supported the Belmont option.

However, NHS managers agreed to put the hospital at Belmont.

In December 2005, Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt ordered NHS officials to build the hospital at St Helier after all and told officials to "stop work" on Belmont.

There is evidence NHS bosses refused to stop work at the Sutton Hospital in Belmont, and in February 2006, NHS papers still referred to Belmont as "the preferred site".

The NHS then claimed that the St Helier site could not be developed anyway because of legal constraints on the land. These claims have been rubbished by Labour and Lib Dem MPs as a "red herring", and the Greater London Authority has also rejected the claims.

In August 2006, the Chief Executive of NHS London said the NHS needed to review Ms Hewitt's decision, but she instructed officials to look at the regenerative impact a new hospital would have on disadvantaged communities, and how it could reduce health inequalities. Campaigners have complained that NHS bosses are not looking at these issues.

NHS officials have also admitted they will not need to consult the public again.


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