13 MPs from south London have criticised proposals for the sweeping changes set to transform Epsom and St Helier hospitals in the coming years.
An open letter from Mitcham and Morden MP Siobhain McDonagh that was cosigned by south London Labour MPs from Lewisham, Putney, Battersea and elsewhere was addressed to Health Secretary Sajid Javid, urging him to reassess the existing plans and “retain all current maternity services” at Epsom and St Helier Hospitals.
In particular, the letter focused on the impact to maternity services to women from ethnic minorities in south London, and suggested that the existing proposals “would see maternity services lost at both St Helier and Epsom hospitals”.
Information distributed with the open letter pointed out that BAME women face disproportionate risks in maternity care, with Black women “more than four times more likely than white women to die during pregnancy or in the six weeks after giving birth”.
“With two maternity services reduced to one, the reality of these proposals for many women is that their maternity services will be moved further away. If a pregnant woman needs to get to hospital as quickly as possible, the extra travel time for mother and baby will put them at increased risk. We are further concerned at the impact of these proposals on continuity of care if a woman gives birth at one hospital but receives antenatal and postnatal care elsewhere,” one passage from the letter read.
13 South London MPs slam proposals to downgrade South London maternity services!
“With 2 maternity services reduced to 1, the reality of these proposals for many women is that their maternity services will be moved further away.”
— Siobhain McDonagh MP (@Siobhain_Mc) September 23, 2021
Existing plans would see antenatal and postnatal care remaining at Epsom and St Helier Hospitals, while births would take place in hospital at the proposed Specialist Emergency Care Hospital in Sutton.
The MPs who signed the letter meanwhile referenced a recent report from the Health Studies Journal (HSJ) published in June that highlighted further concerns about the new plans.
The report suggested the initial proposals for a £500+ million investment to build the new acute care unit in Sutton and upgrade other services in Epsom and St Helier could be “watered down” after the trusts were “told to submit plans for schemes costing less than £400m”.
— NHS Surrey Heartlands CCG (@SyHeartlandsCCG) July 3, 2020
A spokesperson pushed back strongly on a number of the points raised by the MPs, including the suggestion that health inequalities would be exacerbated by the proposals.
Meanwhile, Chief Nurse Arlene Wellman, told the Surrey Comet: “Building a brand new hospital in Sutton and transforming the existing buildings at Epsom and St Helier hospitals will actually help tackle existing inequalities and vastly improve care for local people for generations to come.
“We are absolutely committed to providing outstanding care and the local NHS has been actively listening to what local people think about our services, both now and our plans for the future – this includes focus groups with women from diverse backgrounds who have used our maternity services to better understand and improve experience.”