STRUCTURE: A proposal to replace two district general hospitals with a single facility was revealed after consultants hired to investigate the move were overheard discussing it in a conference call on a train.

  • Jeremy Hunt opposes move to consolidate two hospitals on to one site
  • Details of plan overheard on commuter train
  • Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust says it is right to make plans for beyond 2020

The consultants from Deloitte were recorded discussing Epsom and St Helier University Hospitals Trust by a BBC reporter as the train approached Waterloo Station.

The plans for a single 800-bed hospital were not denied by the trust or local clinical commissioning groups, which commissioned the consultancy firm. This afternoon health secretary Jeremy Hunt said he did not support the move.

St_Helier_Hospital

St Helier Hospital is one of the two district general hospitals run by the trust

The Epsom Guardian reported that Mr Hunt said: “The Conservative Party doesn’t support these plans and wouldn’t implement them in government.

“We believe smaller local hospitals have a vital role to play in the future of our NHS, which is why we’ve supported the NHS’s own plan, the five year forward view, with an additional £8bn a year by 2020.

Although Parliament has been dissolved following the start of the general election campaign, Mr Hunt is still health secretary, and indicated his desire to remain so if the Conservatives form the next government, in an interview with HSJ last year.

The health secretary is able to seek the advice of theIndependent Reconfiguration Panel, and approve or reject reconfiguration plans, if they are referred to them.

The £347m-turnover trust runs the two district general hospitals in Epsom, Surrey, and St Helier on the London/Surrey border, and has long been the focus of reconfiguration speculation.

The hospitals serve constituencies represented by two Liberal Democrat MPs, including former health minister Paul Burstow; Conservative justice secretary Chris Grayling; and one Labour MP.

Epsom and St Helier chief executive Daniel Elkeles said in a statement: “The trust board has always been very open that it is committed to retaining both hospitals for at least the next five years – and that remains the case.

“At the same time, it is right that longer term planning should start now to tackle the serious problems facing local services and local NHS buildings, many of which were built in the 1930s and mean patients are being treated in inadequate conditions.

“However this is a long term plan and any of the options being looked at here are many years away from being implemented and will need a lot more discussion, agreement and consultation before they happen.”

Six CCGs across south west London and north Surrey began a reconfiguration programme looking at options across ESTH and three neighbouring hospital trusts in 2012. One of the favoured options was for Epsom and St Helier to have its emergency departments downgraded.

In February 2014 the programme, called Better Services Better Value, was abandoned and the work was continued without Surrey Downs CCG under the umbrella of the South West London Collaborative Commissioning.

A £219m redevelopment of St Helier was put on hold while the programme was ongoing. Then Epsom and St Helier chief executive Matthew Hopkins said the business case would be revisited and said the trust was committed to investing “up to £90m” in the hospital’s facilities and services.