A panel appointed to look at the options for downgrading a hospital in south west London has recommended closing health minister Paul Burstow’s local A&E and maternity department.
The move prompted Mr Burstow pledge to fight to save services and describe the decision as a “flawed conclusion from a flawed process”.
The 60-person group set up to consider the proposals for south west London said on Thursday the best option was to close the units at St Helier Hospital on the south London/Surrey border.
The hospital is part of Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust, the main acute provider to constituents in Mr Burstow’s Sutton and Cheam constituency.
NHS South West London’s review had already recommended reducing the number of emergency and maternity departments in the cluster to three from the current four.
The scoring panel appointed by NHS SWL this afternoon rated the downgrading St Helier option far higher than any of the alternatives.
The St Helier option scored 201, Kingston 119, Croydon 109, with a “no change” option scoring 85 points.
The other three hospitals in the patch are St George’s, Kingston and Croydon – but St George’s was never an option for losing A&E because of its status as a London trauma centre.
The cluster will now carry out a financial appraisal of the options before deciding which options should be “modelled in full” and presented to the public at a full board meeting before formal consultation later this year.
Mr Burstow said on Friday: “This is a flawed conclusion from a flawed process. There is still a lot of water to flow under the bridge before final decisions are made.
“The panel have ignored the pressure on all the A&Es and maternity units in south west London.
“A cloud has gathered over St Helier but I believe we can mount a successful challenge to the assumptions that have led the panel to this conclusion.”
Sources close to the cluster scoring process said they were already expecting a judicial review of the decision.
One told HSJ most of the participants expected this result and the decision had been “pragmatic rather than purely evidence-based”. The source said there was not a lot of evidence available on many of the issues.
But they added that St Helier served the smallest population and its location meant it was the best candidate for downgrading.
Epsom and St Helier’s chief executive Matthew Hopkins said he was “disappointed” by the news.
He said: “The key criteria we expected the panel to use in making its recommendation were clinical outcomes, safety and patient experience. We know we do well in these areas, especially when compared to our local hospitals, so it is regrettable the panel have come to this conclusion.
“St Helier’s A&E and maternity departments are busier than ever, with 81,739 patients treated in A&E and 3,317 babies born in our maternity unit. The numbers of patients and parents who use St Helier is increasing, not decreasing.
“The review’s plan to close an A&E is based on a major reduction in the numbers of people needing to use A&E departments across south west London.
“As such, we have consistently raised concerns about whether there are clear and robust plans in place across the NHS in south west London to enable that to happen and, in turn, reduce the number of patients who need our care.
“The increasing numbers of patients we treat in A&E, and babies that we care for in our maternity unit, combined with the high quality care we deliver, mean local people, patients and our own staff, need to be reassured that significant investments are being made elsewhere to provide the services they need, at the standards they deserve.”
The option would see St Helier instead “host a state-of-the-art planned surgery centre”, a development whose viability has been questioned by the trust.
In a statement Dr David Finch, joint medical director for the review, said changing the way services were delivered would save lives.
“Remember that London-wide stroke and major trauma were criticised at first as they meant longer travelling times in an emergency – but they have saved hundreds of lives” he said, “As a local GP, I am convinced that our proposals will save lives too and that they will improve services for my patients.”