Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Answers to our questions for the Epsom-St Helier Trust uncensored!

The election campaign is over but the fight to ensure the future of St Helier Hospital and all other vital healthcare services in South-West London continues. While the KOSHH Party didn't win any seats on Merton or Sutton councils, the candidates all did well in the polls, campaigned hard, raised awareness about our health services among countless people and made St Helier Hospital and the role local councillors can play in ensuring its future a bona fide election issue.

During the campaign, we put a series of questions to the Epsom-St Helier Trust after we felt this interview in the Wimbledon Guardian with the trust's new Chief Executive raised more questions than it answered. At last, we have answers to our questions. Here they are, posted without futher comment and completely uncensored.


Firstly, I would like to say thank you for submitting these questions to us. We know that you are passionate about St Helier Hospital, and – having met some of your candidates at the public listening event we held in Merton earlier in the year – we hope that you can already see how committed we are to openness and transparency, as well as the day job of providing high quality care to our patients. 

Our absolute priority is to provide great care to every patient, every day – and over the last three years we have performed very strongly against the standards the government expects of us. At the same time, we have made great headway in overcoming a significant deficit of almost £20 million and we plan to break even this year. That is an incredible achievement, and something that we as a Trust are very proud of.

However, we also understand that our estate is of great importance to local people, including our patients, visitors and staff. As such, we have provided detailed answers to your questions below. 

In addition, once the local elections are completed later this month, we would like to invite you to visit St Helier, meet with our Chief Executive and go through any of the detail.

Has the calculation of £78 million for upgrades to St Helier Hospital allowed for inflation over the next five years?

The proposed investment of £78 million will be used across our hospitals, and is based on what our analysis shows we can afford during the next five years, whilst still meeting our financial obligations (such as paying staff and purchasing equipment). 

As such, within this proposed figure we will need to allow for VAT (where we cannot reclaim it), 
professional fees, and any inflation to the costs involved in construction. As always, we will make sure that we are getting the best value for money, so that our patients and the taxpayer will receive maximum benefit from any investment that we make.

Given that 12m has already been spent, can we please be told what this money has funded?

Every year, we spend approximately £9 million on improving and maintaining our hospital buildings as well as funding new state-of-the-art equipment.

In the last year alone, we saw benefits at all of our sites from improvements to the roof at Epsom Hospital, to new equipment in the operating theatre at St Helier. 

You can see a full breakdown of previous plans at

In addition to the £9 million of improvements we funded last year, we were also awarded £4.5  million from the NHS Trust Development Authority to fund service transfers from Sutton Hospital to our two main sites (including the necessary improvement works at Epsom and St Helier). This has allowed us to create a combined outpatient department in Ferguson House and a new state of the art urology centre at Epsom, while improving the existing facilities at Sutton for blood-testing clinics, pain and chronic fatigue clinics and increasing the capacity of our car parks at both of the main sites.

The major refurbishment projects included:

• Completion of the urgent care centre at St Helier;

• £450,000 on general ward upgrades, including refurbishing the coronary care unit and the 
kitchen on Buckley ward at Epsom Hospital; 

• £250,000 creating additional single rooms for patients at both Epsom and St Helier, which offer increased privacy and help to protect our sickest patients from spreading or contracting infections; 

• £1.1 million on general maintenance at St Helier Hospital, including replacing old windows 
and roof maintenance across the hospital buildings;

• £100,000 on improving the system for piping gases (such as oxygen) to patients across 

Can we please have a detailed breakdown of how the remaining £78 million will be spent? Is it a loan?

Early plans for how we will spend the proposed £78 million are currently going through the process of being approved by our Trust Board as part of our five-year business planning process. As you would expect, we are working closely with our clinical commissioning groups and the NHS Trust Development Authority during this process.

Investing such a significant amount of money into NHS services over a number of years requires a rigorous process for individual business cases, including external approval when required. It is likely that over the coming five years, there will be times when we will need to go through further approval processes (particularly for the larger projects we undertake). As such, we are not in a position to release a detailed breakdown at this stage. 

However, please be assured that – as in previous years – our plans will be targeted at improving patient care either through new equipment, upgraded wards and facilities or specific projects such as the creation of a new eye-unit at St Helier. We will keep the public informed of all major upgrades as they progress.

Why is there no mention in the Sutton Guardian article of the role of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in hospital spending? Given the CCGs have been assigned the task of reducing spending across multiple hospitals in SW London, it seems curious that they are conspicuous by their absence from the Sutton Guardian article.

As an acute Trust, we work really closely with all of our clinical commissioning groups and healthcare partners, and our Chief Executive certainly did make reference to their important role in her interview with the Sutton Guardian. We are always happy to talk to the Sutton Guardian though, so if there are burning questions you think they should be asking, please do let them know.

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Letterbox musings from our candidates

If there's one thing every candidate can relate to on the campaign trail, it is the joys of letterboxes. As we all put pieces of paper through thousands of doors, we all get to know the letterboxes of the boroughs very well indeed. 

Frances Cornford, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton West, writes: "Letterboxes I have known - such as the too-small letterbox. How is anyone supposed to post an A4 or A5 letter? The annoying vertically opening letterbox, the ground level letterbox - is it a good idea to make a postman grovel to deliver your mail? And, finally, the evil modern letterbox with layers of bristles and a too-strongly-hinged inner flap. Do you never wonder why your letters are always mangled? One more evening of leafletting to go! Hope you are all voting for someone NHS-friendly!"

Dave Ash, KOSHH Party Candidate for Cheam muses on some of the letterboxes he has seen on his travels across his ward:

"Ooh, my back! Oh, and why has my bag swung around and is now in front of me?"

"Six out of 10 for difficulty."

"Always the thrill of not knowing what side the hinge is on or how strong the spring might be."

"Oh, how I love letterboxes like that!"

But seriously, the KOSHH Party candidates would like to thank the people of the wards in which they are standing for taking the time to read the campaign material and think about the future of St Helier Hospital. It has been a long and tiring campaign but also a very rewarding one and we are delighted that so many people have been receptive to our message and are prepared to help fight for the future of all hospitals across Merton and Sutton.

Regardless of tomorrow's election outcome, we feel we have achieved so much over these past few weeks in ensuring St Helier Hospital and wider health services have become an issue and a talking point in this election.

Twas the night before election day...

L to R: David Murray (Wallington South), Frances Cornford (Sutton West), Sandra Ash (Wimbledon Park), 
Dr Tiz North (Sutton South), David Ash (Raynes Park), Dave Ash (Cheam)

Twas the night before election day, and all over the borough

Candidates are being incredibly thorough.

And the KOSHH Party is no exception

Still campaigning until dawn's inception.

Our candidates wish they were snug in their beds

But St Helier Hospital thoughts fill their heads.

For they'll not rest until it is secure

As a result, they've had much to endure.

Their feet are aching, they all need hot baths

After walking the wards' endless footpaths.

Thousands of homes got leaflets through doors

Explaining why healthcare is a councillor's cause.

Our work has been hard thanks to many a Tory

Whose letters to residents tell a different story.

How do they know St Helier Hospital isn't under threat?

The strategy announcement hasn't happened yet.

We still waiting on that, at least until June.

Will the CCGs change their tune?

Cuts to services are "very likely", they say.

Imagine if St Helier's A&E went away.

And kids' services and renal and maternity.

Gone from south London for all eternity.

Because of this, we can't stand idly by.

The KOSHH Party urges all councillors to try

And fight for our hospital's survival.

We want unity here, we don't need a rival.

Lib Dem, Labour, Tory, UKIP or Green

Or any political stripe in between,

Every councillor can play their part.

Don't tell us you don't know where to start.

You can lobby the CCGs - it's our money they spend.

We will fight for our hospital to the end.

If you have a party colleague who's an MP

Lobby them too. Have them over for tea!

Tell them about the concerns of people near you

Who need the NHS, as we all do.

The KOSHH Party is committed to healthcare for all.

We will not take our eye off the ball.

Without our hospitals, there's a hole in the community.

But with loud voices and cross-party unity,

Councils can play a vital role

In ensuring there isn't a hospital-sized hole.

Without St Helier Hospital, life becomes rougher.

And, on top of all that, local businesses suffer.

Ambulances will spend longer in traffic.

For women in labour, this will cause havoc.

The hospital issue remains a hot button

For all the good people of Merton and Sutton.

If we can save the hospital, there will be jubilation.

See you tomorrow at the polling station!

Photography by Paul McMillan

Friday, 16 May 2014

Our Sutton West candidate has received some interesting campaign literature...

Frances says: "When every party says they want to save St Helier and
brandishes their own petition, it is difficult to know what to believe."

Frances Cornford, KOSHH Party candidate for Sutton West in the Sutton Council elections, discusses the election campaign literature that she has received in recent weeks:

I’ve had a lot of election literature coming through my door in the last few weeks. Sutton South ward, where I live, is currently split between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives with two Lib Dems and one Tory councillor. Lib Dem literature predominates and the claim to be fighting to save St Helier hospital looms large in their publications.

In one leaflet, they celebrate the demise of the Better Services Better Value review that proposed the closure of St Helier’s A&E, maternity, children’s hospital and renal services. Indeed they even give themselves the credit for saving the hospital claiming that:  
"Sutton Lib Dems and Paul Burstow MP have been at the forefront of the campaign to save A&E, Maternity and Children’s units at St Helier. 

Their campaign and petition of over 19,000 signatures was a major part of the reason plans to close our services were dropped."

In fact, Better Services Better Value was dropped because GPs in Epsom voted to remove themselves from the process and it had little to do with Liberal Democrats in Sutton. Their leaflet also fails to mention that the current threat to St Helier is largely due to the vast top down reorganisation of the NHS and the £20 billion of so-called efficiency savings which Paul Burstow has helped to pilot through the House of Commons as a Junior Health Minister.

After studiously ignoring the threat to St Helier in their early leaflets, the local Tories have now shamelessly jumped on the St Helier bandwagon. Perhaps having Dr Tiz North, running for the Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party in Sutton South has forced them to at least acknowledge the issue, although their promises are questionable to say the least.

Prospective Tory councillors pledge to continue the fight to protect St Helier and Conservative parliamentary candidate Paul Scully even has his own petition. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by this breathtaking hypocrisy considering the Tories have lied consistently about their plans for the NHS. 

No more top down reorganisation, no cuts, no more closures of A&E and maternity units are just some of the election promises that were ripped up as soon as they got into power. Still, I am constantly astonished by the level of mendacity required to claim you are trying to save your local hospital while the party you represent destroys the entire health service. At the very least, the Sutton and Merton Conservative local government candidates should pledge to lobby their colleagues in Westminster over threats to our health services that will affect the whole community.

When every party says they want to save St Helier and brandishes their own petition, it is difficult to know what to believe. All you can do is look at what they have actually done. 

In the last four years, the coalition government has passed a bill that removes the duty of the Secretary of State to provide a universal health service. 

They have imposed £20 billion of cuts on the NHS so that £370 million of savings have to be made in South West London alone. 

They have opened up the NHS to private companies, with 70% of new contracts going to private providers. 

They are closing down A&Es and maternity units across London. All this is being done with no discussion, no democratic mandate and no public consultation. While their leaflets may trumpet support for St Helier Hospital, the Tories and Lib Dems are dismantling the NHS. And no NHS means no St Helier Hospital as we know it.

Photography by Paul McMillan

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Clinical Commissioning Groups: Local bodies that need to be held to account by local people

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) control how our money is spent in our local hospitals but few people know what they do or how they can be held accountable. This concerns Keep Our St Helier Hospital Party (KOSHH Party) candidates for Merton and Sutton enormously.

“The future of St Helier Hospital is not in its own hands - it is South West London CCGs who make the big decisions,” says Frances Cornford, who is running as a KOSHH Party candidate in the Sutton West ward. “The CCGs have to make £370m in cuts across SW London and their strategy won’t be revealed until June or July - after the local elections.”

Does anyone know what CCGs are supposed to do?

CCGs are local bodies tasked with spending our money on our hospitals. This system can only be effective if the CCGs are transparent, the members of CCGs have no conflicts of interest, such as financial interests in private healthcare providers, and if their meetings are held in public, times, dates and agendas widely publicised and they are held at times which allow large numbers to attend.

Click here for a link to the SW London CCG's website, representing CCGs from Merton, Sutton, Croydon, Kingston, Richmond and Wandsworth. If you scroll down to the bottom of the homepage, you can find links to the six CCG's websites and from there, you will then have to go through each individual website to find dates and times. Why does the SW London CCG website not act as a one-stop shop with a calendar of events for all its CCGs? 

The SW London CCG response to this is: "CCGs are independent statutory bodies and advertise their own meetings on their own sites." But the SW London CCG website is used to share information on behalf of all CCGs on other matters. So why not CCG meeting times? Curiouser and curiouser...

Meeting times and dates seldom, if ever, appear in the local press, let alone on the SW London CCG website. This simply isn't good enough.

Does anyone know when their local CCG is next meeting?

The Sutton CCG was meant to be meeting today, Wednesday 7 May, at 2pm. However, this has been postponed until June 18. As far as we know, the location will still be Priory Crescent, Sutton SM3 8LR and it will still be held at 2pm but it is difficult to find out information about any CCG meeting. 

KOSHH Party candidates are dismayed that meetings are poorly publicised by CCGs and the timings are inconvenient.

“Holding a meeting at 2pm on a weekday means many people will be unable to attend, such as those who work full time or are looking after their young children during the day,” says David Murray, KOSHH Party candidate for Wallington South.  

So how come Surrey Downs CCG manages to be more accessible?

KOSHH Party candidates were interested to learn that Surrey Downs CCG, which publicly broke away from the failed Better Service, Better Value review, will be holding a public event in conjunction with Epsom and Ewell Conservatives on Tuesday 10 June at 7.30pm.

“This shows it is possible for CCGs to hold events in the evening when more people can attend,” says Dave Ash, KOSHH Party candidate for Cheam. “Why won’t our local CCGs learn from Surrey Downs and hold meetings at times when people are likely to be able to attend? Why would they make it difficult for so many people to attend?”.

What can local councillors do about all this?

There is no reason why local councillors cannot play an important part in lobbying CCGs in defence of our local health services. 

If elected, KOSHH Party councillors will lobby local CCGs to better publicise their meeting times and venues and encourage more meetings in evenings and on weekends so that a broader cross-section of the community can attend. 

We will lobby for CCG meeting times to be advertised in all GP surgeries across Merton and Sutton.

We will also continuously lobby CCGs for greater transparency, constantly remind them of the importance of preserving all vital services at St Helier Hospital, attend CCG meetings and publicly report on the meetings' outcomes. 

We urge all candidates to join us in these promises.

Photography by Petr Kratochvil

Monday, 5 May 2014

Celebrating International Day of the Midwife

Today is International Day of the Midwife. On Twitter, people are celebrating these wonderful people by sharing stories of how they have brought so many people into the world safely and compassionately. And the midwives who work at St Helier Hospital are no exception - like so many midwives around the world, they bring new life into the world and save lives.

The standard of care by St Helier Hospital's midwives is outstanding. Leading the way for mothers-to-be are Louise Simmonds, Sally Sivas, Suzanne Bouchard, Gina Brockwell, Heather Crosskey, Irene Eastwood,  Jeanette Hennessy, Mandy James, Annette Hunter, Margaret Joyce, Siew Khoo, Helen McCrann, Maria Mills Shaw, Anne Walker, Neelam Worthington, Patience Ohikhena and Sher Morris.

On this very special day, the KOSHH Party candidates would like to take a moment to salute the fantastic maternity staff at St Helier Hospital and to pledge our ongoing support for the amazing work you do every day.

Illustration by Karen Arnold

Some important questions for the Epsom-St Helier Trust

World Press Freedom Day has been observed for another year. And, thanks to the internet, the good news is that it is getting easier to be part of the free press in Britain. While we were disappointed that the Sutton Guardian profile of Chrisha Alagaratnam, new Chief Executive of the Epsom-St Helier Trust did not include answers to important questions, we were heartened to see that people were keen to jump on board in the comments section and challenge the information in the article.

Over on Twitter, the KOSHH Party Twitter account (@KOSHHParty) asked Ms Alagaratnam a few questions in relation to the Sutton Guardian article. Originally £219m had been earmarked to fund improvements at St Helier and then it was announced that this would be reduced to £90m over five years. In the Sutton Guardian article, it said that £78m would be spent. So our first question was, quite simply, what's going on?

Ms Alagaratnam responded promptly thus: "£90m was at Feb 13/14. £78m is from the new financial year 14/15 for the next five years as we have already begun investing."

So that would mean that £12m has already been spent on upgrades to St Helier Hospital. Thus, we asked additional questions over Twitter. We received a tweet from the trust's communications department account requesting that we ask any further questions via email. Certainly over email, nobody is not limited to the 140-character format of Twitter for questions and answers but we prefer a more transparent approach.

With the principle of transparency as our guiding light, we publicly ask the following questions of the Epsom-St Helier Trust.

1. Has the calculation of £78m for upgrades to St Helier Hospital allowed for inflation over the next five years?

2. Given that 12m has already been spent, can we please be told what this money has funded?

3. Can we please have a detailed breakdown of how the remaining £78m will be spent?

4. Is this £78m in the form of a loan that will have to be paid back?

5. Why is there no mention in the Sutton Guardian article of the role of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) in hospital spending? Given the CCGs have been assigned the task of reducing spending across multiple hospitals in SW London, it seems curious that they are conspicuous by their absence from the Sutton Guardian article.

We look forward to answers to these questions from the Epsom-St Helier Trust. Unlike Twitter, there is plenty of room for extensive responses in the comments section of this blog post.

If elected to Merton and Sutton Councils, KOSHH Party candidates promise to publicly hold all decision-makers to account in relation to the future of St Helier Hospital and urge all candidates to promise to do the same. We want to see a future in which Merton and Sutton councillors from across the political spectrum unite in support of our hospital.