Residents in South West London are set to be left defenceless as plans to close two major hospitals pick up pace. Epsom and St Helier’s Hospital Trust is body responsible for providing services at St Helier’s Hospital in Sutton, and Epsom hospital in Surrey. Last year, the Trust decided they can no longer afford to run acute services at both hospitals and have tabled three options: close the acute services at either St Helier’s Hospital, or Epsom Hospital, failing that lose services at both, and build a new “facility” offsite. The proposed location, the site of former Sutton Hospital, a much smaller hospital.
Regardless of the decision, journey times for residents local to either St Helier or Epsom will double, or in some cases triple. Activist group Keep Our St Helier Hospital (KOSHH), are campaigning to stop the move.
Dave Ash, a founding member of KOSHH, said: “Most people owe their life to the NHS; I certainly do,” this passion has helped him and his group of campaigners – which includes his mother Sandra – and father David – rack up over 11,000 signatures to block the plans.
Epsom and St Helier, which both have contracts with the now bankrupt Carillion, fall within Conservative heartlands, with four prominent MPs, including Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, and Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt. KOSHH have regularly confronted local MPs, including the Health secretary, which created this viral video showing Sandra, Dave’s mother, meeting Hunt at St Helier Hospital. Available here.
Support for KOSHH’s campaign is growing fast, as they make their way around South London, setting up street stalls and alerting residents to the plans. Dave, who ran for Parliament in 2015 to bring awareness to the campaign said: “We are trying to inform people, the powers at be don’t want them to know”.
Though, KOSHH are a non-partisan group, who do not affiliate with any one political party. Discussing the gradual privatisation and closure of hospitals, Sandra said: “It’s been a 30-year project, and everyone has played a part, all political parties.” During Tony Blair’s New Labour, privatisation of the NHS was expanded, with a commercial directorate created at the Department of Health.
Jeremy Corbyn has remained strongly opposed to any privatisation of the Health service, and has pledged to re-nationalise the NHS, saying: “The next Labour government would go further than reversing Tory cuts, it would deliver a modern health and social care service that is fully publicly provided and fully publicly funded”.
Building a new facility in Sutton is rumoured to be the Trust’s preferred option, and experts have valued the bill to be north of £400 million. KOSHH do not believe this a simply a local issue and see the danger closures like this are causing across the country. Colin Crilly, a lead campaigner, and media strategist, said: “although we’re a local group, we always emphasise that this is part of a nationwide assault.”
This year’s winter crisis saw the NHS reach critical levels. The government advised hospitals to defer non-urgent operations in a bid to free up hospital staff and beds. Doctors have warned the capacity of wards is reaching dangerouslevels, with bed occupancy at 94.8%.
KOSHH are holding a public meeting, this Tuesday (January 30th), to discuss the plans and how to save their hospitals. The meeting will be held at Bishopsford Road Social Club, Morden, SM4 6BH, 8pm.
You can also sign their petition here.