I am writing to update you about the latest, disappointing news about the future of Epsom Hospital and the Epsom and St Helier Trust.
Last Friday the leadership of the NHS in Surrey and London endorsed the provisional plan to build the proposed new hospital at Sutton, rather than Epsom or St Helier. Whilst I have always understood the attraction of building a brand new centre for the area, and the reasons why the NHS has focused on Sutton as it is half way between Epsom and St Helier, I do think that the choice of site is the wrong one.
I have been putting pressure on the local leadership team in the past few weeks to hold back for a little longer on deciding between the sites, particularly in the context of the pandemic.
In particular, while I think that a £500 million investment in better facilities is good for local people, there was quite a big difference between the costs of building at Sutton and doing so at Epsom, which was estimated to be much cheaper. My concern is that there may not now be sufficient funding available to guarantee that the project can go ahead at Sutton. By contrast, the Trust can almost certainly still afford to build at Epsom and still fulfil the clinical model and also make some provision for potential additional capacity following the pandemic. The expectation in the construction industry today is that costs will rise following the pandemic. Unless a fully workable vaccine is found for the virus, some degree of social distancing will remain necessary for the time being and this must be factored into the projected costings. Construction at Epsom remains the lowest cost option for the Trust and remains the best value for money. On the basis of the current situation, I still believe Epsom is the most affordable option.
In addition, the main reason that Sutton was recommended over Epsom was because of the whole system impact of building at Epsom – that London hospitals would need extra capacity as well because patients currently treated at St Helier would go there rather than Epsom. However, the Epsom and St Helier project team has now done modelling based on needing an extra 20% of beds to provide capacity to deal with a future pandemic. This is sensible. But it is also likely that additional investment will be required at the London teaching hospitals for the same reason. If spare capacity has to be built at St George’s anyway, following the pandemic, and this capacity would be available for normal use in normal times, there is no reason for the cost of this extra capacity to be included in the project plan.
The Trust now has to go through a long further process of finalising its plans, and in my view the option of building at Epsom may still have to return to the table for financial reasons.
But in the meantime, let me explain what this means for patients and for Epsom. The new hospital at Sutton would take over all the high-end work that the Trust does. This means that almost all of the treatments that are currently done for patients from this area at St Helier would move to Sutton. That would in fact bring them closer to home for most people.
It would mean that the maternity unit at Epsom would move to Sutton in the late 2020s, and that blue light ambulances would go to Sutton as well. But Epsom would continue to do most of what it does at the moment, including day surgery and the elective orthopaedic centre, as well as a lot of inpatient treatment aimed particularly at the elderly. Most of what the A&E department does will also remain. So, the hospital is in no danger of closing or disappearing.
I will continue to update you as things develop further, and I will be keeping a very close eye on the work being done. On the one hand I am pleased to see a real modernisation of our local facilities, and a smart new centre locally. For those who do not know, the Sutton site is up on the Downs near the end of the “mad mile” on the A217. But at the same time I would have much preferred Epsom to be chosen, and I do think that the case for Epsom remains.
With best wishes