Merton Conservatives Oppose Pointless St Helier Delay

Here is our letter to Matt Hancock the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care opposing Merton Council's pointless delay to the St Helier Regeneration Scheme. Our local NHS stands to benefit from a £500,000,000 investment and yet the Labour run administration would rather throw up obstacles rather than refurbish our hospitals.


The Merton Conservatives oppose this pointless delay and call on all local politicians and residents to get behind this once in a life time opportunity to regenerate St Helier Hospital.



23 July 2020

Dear Secretary of State,

We write to you today regarding the outcome of the recent Improving Healthcare Together (IHT) consultation into a new configuration of healthcare across the three CCG’s of Merton, Epsom and Surrey Downs.

We have responded twice to the consultation and are convinced that the proposed £500 million investment is the only way of improving local healthcare services across the three CCG’s. Whilst we have been on record supporting the new centre of clinical excellence being based at St Helier Hospital, we strongly support the three-hospital model, and consider that a two hospital model is not in the best interests of local residents. Now that a decision has been made, we feel that it is vital for the investment to come into the CCG’s as swiftly as possible.

From our engagement with the Trust, and with local residents, it is clear that the healthcare delivery model in Merton must change to ensure a sustainable future. NHS professionals have repeatedly called for change to deliver a higher standard of healthcare. This can only be achieved by the three-hospital model, and not by any retrograde attempts to sustain a flawed model of healthcare delivery.

We consider the two-hospital proposal to be the ‘do nothing’ option, as it does not achieve a better outcome for residents of this borough. We share the opinion of our local NHS professionals that if the three-hospital model is not implemented, then that decision will jeopardise the future healthcare of residents of the London Borough of Merton.

Therefore, we have been deeply concerned by the recent actions of the Labour administration of Merton Council. The steps they are taking are designed to frustrate this process, risking this investment and preventing the rapid improvement of local healthcare provision. They have been employing similar tactics for decades, whilst health outcomes in Merton have suffered.

We are aware that the council will soon be referring this decision to you, following a vote at the Council’s Healthier Communities and Older People Overview and Scrutiny Panel. We wanted to place on record that the Conservative members of this committee voted against this course of action and to take this opportunity to refute their allegations against the consultation process and the decision that has been reached by the local NHS. As we have been an interested party throughout the consultation period we have had first-hand experience of the consultation process, and local issues, and we are therefore in a position to be able to respond to these allegations as we know them to be false.

Throughout the consultation process the approach taken by the CCG’s has been reasonable and appropriate, and residents have been fully consulted and allowed adequate time to make their views heard, and to listen to the views of local NHS staff and others.     

The administration has also claimed that the investment is ‘not in the interests of the health service’. The St Helier Hospital buildings were built long before the NHS was created; the lifts are not wide enough to take hospital beds, there are not enough single rooms, and patients are often transported from one section of the hospital to another by ambulance, as there is inadequate internal connections between different departments. In addition, the age of the hospital buildings makes them difficult to keep clean and staff retention has been a major problem for years.

Merton Council also raise the issue of the Covid19 pandemic as a reason to reconsider the decision. Their letter states that ‘the emerging evidence is that more hospital beds will be needed, not less’. However, as Dr Andrew Murray, GP and Clinical Chair at NHS South West London CCG has said the IHT reconfiguration will create beds for an extra 1,300 patients. In addition, we have closely considered the IHT review of the impact of Covid19 on the existing clinical model and consider the weaknesses of the current health provision to be stark and clear.

Currently we do not have enough ITU beds, and it is not possible to increase this due to the layout of the hospitals. Furthermore, only 20% of beds at St Helier and Epsom are single room beds, meaning that the small number of Covid19 patients who the hospital could care for could not be isolated, thereby putting the lives of others at serious risk. Positive and negative Covid19 spaces were unable to be separated, and the antiquated design of Epsom and St Helier Hospitals created extremely challenging working environments for doctors and nurses dealing with a little known and deadly virus. If we are to expect further pandemics in the future, it is clear from recent experience that the two-hospital model is not fit for the future.  

Investment in St Helier Hospital has been proposed in different forms since the turn of the century. However, after many missed opportunities this investment is now critical for the future of healthcare in Merton and the wider CCG’s catchment area. We do not believe that a two-hospital model is in the best interests of local people, nor does it allow for a sustainable future for St Helier Hospital. Missing out on this investment would be a disaster for local people, and it is clear that those who claim that a £500 million investment is a ‘downgrade’ are clearly not motivated by the need to ensure the best health outcomes for local residents.

Therefore, we are deeply concerned by the actions of the Labour administration of Merton Council and the Member of Parliament for Mitcham and Morden. They are wilfully putting this investment at risk, playing politics with the health of the people of Merton, and discrediting the work of our NHS. We cannot afford to wait any longer for investment in our healthcare system and support the three-hospital model which we feel offers the only practical solution to improve healthcare in Merton. 

We therefore ask you to support the decision of the IHT consultation and reject any further dither or delay.

Please accept this letter as notification of our dissenting opinion from the Healthier Communities and Older People Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting held on 21st July 2020

Yours faithfully,


Councillor Thomas Barlow (Vice Chair, Healthier Communities and Older People Overview and Scrutiny Panel, London Borough of Merton)

Councillor Nigel Benbow (Member, Healthier Communities and Older People Overview and Scrutiny Panel, London Borough of Merton)

Councillor Nicholas McLean (Leader of the Conservative Group & Leader of the Opposition, London Borough of Merton)