Fears for the future of the Epsom St Helier Trust
Fears have been raised further services could be taken from Epsom and St Helier Hospital Trust after a leaked staff bulletin revealed a recommendation to hand over the UK’s largest hip and knee replacement centre to another trust.
The Elective Orthopaedic Centre (EOC), based at Epsom Hospital, was opened in 2004 by the Queen and has been recognised as a centre of excellence both nationally and internationally for hip and knee replacement surgery.
News that the trust may lose control of the unit next April has sparked fears that the three other London trusts who are partners in the centre, Kingston, Croydon and St George’s Hospitals could then move the centre, or part of it, out to another hospital - sucking money and staff away from the cash-strapped trust.
Currently Epsom and St Helier Trust is in charge of its day-to-day operation which includes overseeing its performance and quality of care, with the income, after costs, split between the partners.
But the partnership board, made up of the four trusts, have agreed to assess whether the running of the EOC should be passed to Kingston Hospital.
Geoff Martin, chairman of London Hospital Emergency, warned the move was another nail in the coffin for the trust and Epsom and Ewell MP Chris Grayling said some GPs want to relocate the centre back into London - an idea he branded "an indefensible waste of money."
Epsom and St Helier's chief executive Matthew Hopkins said in a bulletin to staff: "Members of the partnership board felt this would allow a clearer split between the host and the physical location of the EOC, which, in turn, they believe could improve the way in which the centre is governed."
But he added the trusts committee had raised several concerns about the move, including destabilising Epsom Hospital when the future of its site was uncertain.
Analysis paving the way for the move is expected to be completed by Christmas and, if approved by the partnership board, control could switch to Kingston on April 1 next year.
A spokesperson for Kingston Hospital said that the partnership board endorsed the recommendation in order to strengthen its existing governance arrangements, and there were no plans to move the service.
But Mr Martin of London Hospital Emergency said: "That unit is regarded as one of the most successful units anywhere within the NHS in terms of performance outcomes.
"The only reason you would consider passing it to someone eight or nine miles down the road is if you are paving the way for the its destruction."
Mary Burstow the chair of the health and well being scrutiny committee said: "It is not patient focused, it is about NHS managers playing at politics with peoples health.
"Kingston Hospital - with support from Croydon and St George’s hospitals - are trying to do this whilst the future of Epsom and St Helier is uncertain.
"NHS Managers are using tax payers money to fund what is little more than an internal hostile takeover bid."
Paul Burstow the MP for Sutton and Cheam called the move a ham fisted attack on St Helier and Tom Brake the MP for Carshalton and Wallington said the trust needs space to re-define its plans for health services locally.
Chris Grayling MP said: "It’s quite clear that the management at the NHS trusts in London and some GPs want to relocate it back into London, but the point is that would be ridiculous and an indefensible waste of money.
"The relocation of the centre would be completely unacceptable. There are various rumours swirling around. I am less concerned about who manages it, compared to whether it continues to operate from Epsom Hospital.
"It’s clearly odd to have a single unit being run by four separate trusts so there is an argument for streamlining management.
"But it would be absolutely absurd if the NHS were to take steps to close a high quality centre in Epsom and simply reopen it six miles down the road.
"All those involved in the decision about its future should understand that."