Public health meeting will not have political bias, organisers claim
A public question and answer session on the future of St Helier hospital and healthcare in the area will not be politically influenced, organisers have said.
The charity Healthwatch Sutton has organised a Question Time style event to take place at the Trinity Centre in Wallington on Thursday but has faced criticism for a perceived political bias in the make-up of the panel and the way the meeting has been arranged.
But Healthwatch has denied any bias and said it will remain apolitical and balanced.
The meeting will be chaired by Healthwatch vice chairman David Williams and the panel will feature the borough's two Liberal Democrat MPs Tom Brake and Paul Burstow.
It will also feature Councillor Ruth Dombey, the Liberal Democrat leader of the council, Dr Brendan Hudson, chairman of Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group and former Liberal Democrat councillor and, the chief executive of Epsom and St Helier hospitals.
Questions for the panel can be submitted in advance through Mr Brake's website after he offered to help Healthwatch gather responses prior to the meeting.
Labour activists have criticised the event's organisers and even called for it to be cancelled as they feel it is politically biased.
A Healthwatch spokesman said: "Healthwatch Sutton has been clear, from the outset of the planning of this meeting, that it wishes to maintain a balanced apolitical position.
"Healthwatch Sutton is a small charity with limited funding and resources and accepted an offer of administrative support from the office of Tom Brake in order that this event could go ahead to inform local people
"The questions that have been submitted will be selected exclusively by Healthwatch Sutton with no involvement in the selection process from any other groups or individuals.
"The MPs are present on the panel as they are the elected representatives from both Sutton electoral wards. The London Borough of Sutton nominated Coun Dombey as their representative in response to Healthwatch Sutton’s request for a senior spokesperson to attend."
The spokesman said Healthwatch Sutton is not responsible for any publicity material put together by other organisations and that a number of questions have been submitted directly to it from its members.
Siobhan Tate, Labour's parliamentary candidate for Carshalton and Wallington, has called for the meeting to be cancelled because she believes it will be politically biased.
She said: "It would have cost Healthwatch nothing to use their own email address to collate replies.
"This meeting is being used a means for politicians to harvest data through pre-submitted questions and to give false-reassurance to people."
The meeting will take place at the Trinity Centre in Maldon Road, Wallington, from 7pm on today. To book a place or submit a question, visit www.tombrake.co.uk.