KOSHH campaigner Sandra Ash reports on a "Coffee Morning" Siobhain McDonagh MP held on the 17th of October at Morden Park Baptist Church
Our hospitals are still under threat
Siobhain McDonagh MP for Mitcham and Morden invited, by email and by hand-delivered leaflets, some of her constituents to come along and show her invited guest, Daniel Elkeles - Chief Executive of Epsom and St Helier Hospitals - what we think of his leaked plans to demolish St Helier hospital. She said in the invite "We believe no new hospital will ever be built but it will lead to the closure of St Helier", "We all know that Mr Elkeles and other senior executives want to close St Helier"
Read a copy of the invite here:
In fact the leaked plan had, as a preferred option the intention to demolish Epsom, St Helier and Queen Mary's Hospital for Children and replace them with an 800 bed "centre" on the Sutton Hospital site
For those of you that don't know already, Daniel Elkeles came to be Chief Executive of our Hospital Trust fresh from presiding over the "biggest hospital closure programme in NHS history" - you can read more about that here and here.
Four members of "Keep Our St Helier Hospital" went along to the coffee morning to add our support.
We were amazed by what transpired.
The Presentation by Mr Elkeles
Daniel Elkeles made a presentation and it - like the "Estates Review" which management consultants, Deloitte, were paid almost £300,000 to produce (more here) - concentrated on reasons why St Helier, Epsom and Queen Mary's Children's Hospital should be demolished. He talked of peeling paint, a tarpaulin on a flat roof and other damage that years of neglect have caused. He talked of old fashioned wards and beds too close together. He said nothing of substance about future plans.
The trust has been shown to perform very well in various studies and measures. And this is despite the hospitals being the victims of years of neglect. Imagine if the money to upgrade the buildings was back on the table. Why isn't Mr Elkeles lobbying for this to happen?
An utterly disappointing performance by Siobhain McDonagh
Siobhain McDonagh MP did not challenge Daniel Elkeles at all, and she seemed very unhappy when we did. She did not ask for any reassurances on our behalf, she shut down questions we put on PFI loans (which are bankrupting the NHS), and did not even mention the leaked plan to cut bed numbers and the possibility of St Helier, Queen Mary's and Epsom Hospitals all being demolished with no replacement being built.
Nothing was said by her about the possibility of a "health centre" in Sutton replacing Epsom, St Helier and Queen Mary's hospitals, which would result in a significant reduction in beds and degraded quality of services for the local area.
Ms McDonagh said nothing about extended journey times if a replacement were built in Sutton, nor the effect on local people if a proper A&E was not provided anywhere in the region.
No mention was made of Jeremy Hunt saying that far from funding or allowing a new "centre" to be built in place of Epsom, St Helier and Queen Mary's , the Government would actually BLOCK any new hospital building. (read more here)
She made no mention of the £219m which was once on the table to rebuild much of St Helier Hospital, where it was now or if it was still available.
Nothing was said about the fact that South West London Collaborative Commissioning admitted, when challenged, that they declined the £219 million because the rebuild did not form part of their long-term plan! (oddly, removed from the SWLCC website, but thankfully, we have a copy which you can see here)
Considering Ms McDonagh's previous claims to be fighting to keep St Helier and the combative tone of her invitation to meet Daniel Elkeles, I was shocked by the total absence of any challenge by her on the day and the way she appeared to diminish our challenges.
I was genuinely surprised that she made no effort to demonstrate to her invited guests that she is going to oppose these plans. I had thought that that was the purpose of the meeting, especially given that fighting to save St Helier was one of the main pillars of her election campaigns.
A consequence of the meeting
The Siobhain McDonagh "Coffee Morning" became just an opportunity for a presentation by Daniel Elkeles, spelling out all the reasons why Epsom and St Helier should be demolished. Essentially a "public engagement" as Mr Elkeles likes to refer to such events.
Since June, and prior to this event, the Trust claim to have given (presumably at great expense) 20 presentations on the condition of the hospitals, which they say 80 people attended. That's an average of 4 per people at each event.
By using her mailing list and her public profile, Ms McDonagh delivered to Mr Elkeles about 200 people, to add to his list of those "engaged" with very little effort on his part, no publicity costs, no hall to hire, fewer expensive senior staff to pay and no catering costs. Worse still, the meeting was so manipulated as to give the impression that there is very little opposition to his plan.
He also took the opportunity to hand out to everyone present, questionnaires, apparently designed to elicit a justification for the demolition of our local hospitals. Mr Elkeles went almost completely unchallenged by anyone other than KOSHH members and was given a very easy ride.
KOSHH campaigners restricted from campaigning
Before the meeting started, some KOSHH campaigners were offering leaflets to people, but before long, people came out from the church hall and told us that we were not allowed to hand out Keep Our St Helier Hospital window posters or leaflets in the grounds of the church. No explanation was given.
This was interesting, as I was present at a Merton CCG meeting a few years ago and helped Siobhain McDonagh MP hand out leaflets, from a stall she set up out side the CCG premises. here
Our small team quietly handing out leaflets and window signs at the coffee morning was very low key and demure compared to that demo.
One might have thought that Ms McDonagh would welcome our support now, especially as she is no longer handing out her own window signs
It was very surprising that no new, Labour-sponsored, Save St Helier signs (the yellow signs that were a familiar sight during the local and national election campaigns) were handed out at the meeting.
Prior to the 2014 local elections, many KOSHH members, who were also in the Lower Morden residents' group to save St Helier Hospital run by, the then prospective Labour Councillor, Sally Kenny, spent a great deal of time and energy going door to door with window signs for that group. We also came up with the idea for the estate agent-style boards used in the area. KOSHH members designed the construction of these boards, helped assemble them, found sites for their display and installed many. The Lower Morden residents' group has not met since shortly before last year's local elections.
All the concerns raised in Ms McDonagh's invitation to the event seem somehow to have evaporated and it would appear that she no longer believes there is any need for her or her supporters, or indeed anyone else, to campaign to "Save St Helier" or "Keep Our St Helier Hospital".
Call to action to Keep St Helier Hospital?
At the end of the meeting Ms McDonagh had issued no “call to action”, no campaigning leaflets, no invitation to sign a petition and no new window or garden signs to "Save St Helier".
Local supporters and campaigners were told by now Labour Councillor, Sally Kenny on Facebook in May that they should only leave window signs and estate agent style boards up until after the election and then take them down.
We at KOSHH say the fight to save our local health services, and "Keep Our St Helier Hospital" is far from over and we have window posters for anyone who wants one to show their support for our local hospital. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like a poster or tweet us at @Save_St_Helier and we will arrange to get you a window poster.