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Tom Brake

Liberal Democrat MP for Carshalton and Wallington

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MPs call for Hospital rethink in open letter to NHS Trust Board

January 24, 2005 3:04 PM

Local MPs Paul Burstow and Tom Brake have written to all the members of the Boards of Epsom and St Helier NHS Trust, Sutton and Merton Primary Care Trust (PCT) and East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey PCT ahead of their meetings on Tuesday 25th January.

The letter reads:

Dear board member

We are writing to you concerning the important decisions you will be making next Tuesday (25th January) to urge you not to adopt the recommendation that Sutton should become the preferred site for the Critical Care Hospital.

The paper that you will consider wrongly suggests that people 'voted' for the site nearest to them. This is a simplification of a far more complex picture which saw residents near the Sutton site supporting St Helier. In fact there is strong local opposition to the siting of a CCH at Sutton. It would be a mistake to assume that our constituents will see the Sutton site as a least worst option in terms of travel.

Great reliance has been placed on the work of FDP Savills to strengthen the case for the Sutton site. However, we believe that their assessment of the prospects of achieving a planning application under and overestimate the difficulties posed by the Sutton and St Helier sites respectively. In particular we note that the Head of Staff, Neale Coleman, in the Mayor of London's office has expressed his surprise that in the absence of discussions with the GLA planning team Savills were able to reach so definite a conclusion about the likelihood of planning permission not being forthcoming at St Helier. We would ask you to bear in mind his concluding comment:

"In my view it would be difficult to justify excluding such an option on these grounds without further discussion."

The paper does not give adequate weight to the difficulties in securing the necessary improvements to road infrastructure to facilitate the siting of the CCH at Sutton. The road network is single carriage and residential in character. Major engineering work would be necessary. Residents living in the area have already made contact with us to express their alarm and opposition to the proposal for these reasons. The paper's authors are wrong to treat parking and highways issues as externalities to the decision you are being asked to take, they are key to the deliverability of the CCH.

Much is also made of journey times to the CCH. Yet throughout the consultation we have been told that journey times to the CCH matter less because of the network of local care hospitals. We also note the statements of both the London and Surrey Ambulance Services to the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee that from their perspective the location of the CCH will have no impact on patient outcomes. We are surprised by the paper's assertion that the Sutton site is the most accessible. In terms of total travel time,

St Helier comes out ahead of the other sites. The absence of any assessment of the travel times for those reliant on public transport means that an important element in the paper's argument has not been addressed.

Given the financial uncertainties surrounding payment by results and the impact of the Department of Health target for switching 10-15% of elective activity to independent sector providers we are surprised that the analysis in Appendix 5 of the paper has not influenced the authors' conclusions more. The affordability assessment suggests that more activity will be lost to other providers if the Sutton site is chosen and that the St Helier site would deliver a positive shift in resources of £3.3m and a revenue surplus of "just under £2m".

We remain concerned that if the Sutton site is selected that St Helier would need to be rebuilt to provide a local care hospital. The financial estimates for LCHs set out in the consultation paper would be insufficient to cover the costs of such a project. A refurbishment would leave the local health economy with a LCH with high overhead costs. We raised this in our submissions to the consultation and were disappointed that the paper has not answered this point.

Finally, by recommending the Sutton site as the preferred site for the CCH the authors of the report have succeeded in uniting a sizable majority of local public opinion across the whole Sutton, Merton, East Elmbridge and Mid Surrey area. As well as public opposition the proposal also unites all of the Members of Parliament in the area. We understand that the Members of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden and Epsom and Ewell have also registered their strong opposition to this recommendation. This is surely not a firm basis upon which to move forward to the next stage.

We hope that in coming to your decision on Tuesday you will bear these comments in mind and look again at the strong case for opting for St Helier.

Yours sincerely,

TOM BRAKE MP

Carshalton and Wallington

PAUL BURSTOW MP

Sutton and Cheam