Public health meeting will not have political bias, organisers claim

Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake with campaigners outside St Helier hospital

Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake with campaigners outside St Helier hospital

First published in News
Last updated
Sutton Guardian: Photograph of the Author by , Chief Reporter

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.

Comments (13)

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1:25pm Tue 15 Jul 14

LiberalsOut says...

I rarely agree with anything the Labour Party says nut this time they are right - if you are not a Lib Dem you will not get on the panel
We know Lib Dem = Disaster
Lets not forget that both the local MP's voted for legislation (twice) that would lead to St Helier and other hospitals closing
I rarely agree with anything the Labour Party says nut this time they are right - if you are not a Lib Dem you will not get on the panel We know Lib Dem = Disaster Lets not forget that both the local MP's voted for legislation (twice) that would lead to St Helier and other hospitals closing LiberalsOut
  • Score: 13

2:09pm Tue 15 Jul 14

David A says...

I am very disappointed that Mike Pyle's headline does not highlight health campaign group complaints about the obvious fact that this meeting is entirely politicised by the exclusively Lib Dem political membership of the panel. Anyone failing to note the significance of the last two words of the headline could assume that the Guardian judged the event to be politically unbiased. Having said that, Mike has included sufficient detail in the body of the article to make the truth of the situation clear. This is not the first occasion that meetings announced under the name "Healthwatch" (but not always actually organised by Healthwatch) have given the impression, contrary to their declared mission, that they exist variously to "sell", misrepresent or conceal the way government plans for the NHS are being implemented, and to further assist its privatisation by gathering as many complaints about the NHS in its current form as they possibly can. Public meetings such as this will, I am sure, be passed off as consultation - which they emphatically are not. The Wimbledon Guardian prominently published, along with a photo of its author, a letter by the leader of Merton Council demanding the resignation of Dr Howard Freeman. It also prominently published the obviously orchestrated support for Dr Freeman (which actually did nothing to answer the substance of Stephen Alambritis' case). It would be good if the Guardian could give similar prominence to the press releases and letters sent to it by health campaign groups such as KOSHH (Keep Our St Helier Hospital) and KONP (Keep Our NHS Public).
I am very disappointed that Mike Pyle's headline does not highlight health campaign group complaints about the obvious fact that this meeting is entirely politicised by the exclusively Lib Dem political membership of the panel. Anyone failing to note the significance of the last two words of the headline could assume that the Guardian judged the event to be politically unbiased. Having said that, Mike has included sufficient detail in the body of the article to make the truth of the situation clear. This is not the first occasion that meetings announced under the name "Healthwatch" (but not always actually organised by Healthwatch) have given the impression, contrary to their declared mission, that they exist variously to "sell", misrepresent or conceal the way government plans for the NHS are being implemented, and to further assist its privatisation by gathering as many complaints about the NHS in its current form as they possibly can. Public meetings such as this will, I am sure, be passed off as consultation - which they emphatically are not. The Wimbledon Guardian prominently published, along with a photo of its author, a letter by the leader of Merton Council demanding the resignation of Dr Howard Freeman. It also prominently published the obviously orchestrated support for Dr Freeman (which actually did nothing to answer the substance of Stephen Alambritis' case). It would be good if the Guardian could give similar prominence to the press releases and letters sent to it by health campaign groups such as KOSHH (Keep Our St Helier Hospital) and KONP (Keep Our NHS Public). David A
  • Score: 13

2:13pm Tue 15 Jul 14

Paul Scully says...

No political bias? This article was the first time I've seen the claim that Healthwatch Sutton have organised the event. Residents need to apply to one of the LibDem MPs to be able to attend or to submit a question. That's not a great start for remaining neutral.
No political bias? This article was the first time I've seen the claim that Healthwatch Sutton have organised the event. Residents need to apply to one of the LibDem MPs to be able to attend or to submit a question. That's not a great start for remaining neutral. Paul Scully
  • Score: 14

2:42pm Tue 15 Jul 14

Siobhan Tate says...

Please read my press release which I discussed with Sutton Guardian Editor yesterday and sent in before this article was published & then consider the issue of political bias again:

Healthwatch: consumer champion or political platform?

Concerns have been raised Healthwatch Sutton providing a stage-managed platform for four Liberal Democrat politicians. Healthwatch Sutton is supposed to be an 'independent' body with statutory powers ‘to ensure the voice of the consumer is strengthened and heard’.

Healthwatch Sutton has organised a public meeting this Thursday 17th July. The panel of 5 includes the Interim Chief Executive of Epsom & St Helier Hospitals (Chrisha Alagaratnam) and four Liberal Democrat politicians (Tom Brake MP, Paul Burstow MP, Cllr. Ruth Dombey, and former Mayor Brendan Hudson, who is now Chair of Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group and charged with making ….).

Siobhan Tate, Labour’s Prospective MP for Carshalton and Wallington has been listening to local people’s concerns about this meeting and has offered to sit on the panel to address the political bias.

People are unhappy about having to sign up for a Healthwatch meeting and pre-submit questions via Tom Brake MP’s party-political website. Healthwatch say they accepted Tom Brake’s offer of administrative help because they are a small charity with limited (local authority) funding. Siobhan Tate does not accept this: ‘it would have cost Healthwatch nothing to use their own email address to collate replies from the 28 people who have so far signed up to the event on Brake’s website.

The published purpose of the meeting is to enable people to 'find out how NHS services will be improved locally'. This stands in contrast to Healthwatch’s stated mission which is ‘all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services’

Siobhan Tate says: ‘this meeting is being used a means for politicians to harvest data through pre-submitted questions and to give false-reassurance to people about the South West London Collaborative Commissioning Group's five year plan.’

In a statement Healthwatch Sutton say:

Healthwatch Sutton has been clear, from the outset of the planning of this meeting that it wishes to maintain a balanced a-political position in relation to any possible changes to local services. As yet, Healthwatch Sutton has not formally consulted local people about the future of health services in Sutton and as such is not able to represent local people from any particular stand point. We would need more information before starting a consultation with our members and the public on the future of health services in Sutton.

The lack of transparency and consultation in the process of planning for the future of health services in South West London is a real concern for campaigners including Siobhan Tate, Keep Our NHS Public, and Keep Our St Helier Hospital.

Even the Leader of Sutton Council, Ruth Dombey shares similar concerns. At the recent Health and Wellbeing Board, Councillor Dombey refused to approve the CCG’s five year strategic plan because it had already been submitted to NHS and ‘Councillors were not given the chance to help shape it’.

Siobhan Tate says: If Sutton’s politicians truly wanted people to be informed about the future of local health services they would demand that the GP-led body (which is ‘tasked with addressing a funding gap of around £210 million per year’) makes its public meetings more accessible to the public.

Siobhan Tate has attempted to attend the four most recent CCG meetings. These meetings have been held in the middle of the working day at different locations. Two of those meetings were cancelled at short notice without any public communication. It was simply the case that all evidence of the meeting disappeared from the website the day before.

At the most recent Sutton CCG meeting in June, Frances Cornford (Keep Our NHS Public Sutton) noted that at the March meeting, Sutton CCG said there was going to be a public engagement strategy on the 5 year plan and asked why no strategy had been forthcoming. No satisfactory answer was given by the three CCG members who attempted to answer the question. Frances Cornford was left to remind the board that they had a statutory obligation not just to engage but to consult the public.
Please read my press release which I discussed with Sutton Guardian Editor yesterday and sent in before this article was published & then consider the issue of political bias again: Healthwatch: consumer champion or political platform? Concerns have been raised Healthwatch Sutton providing a stage-managed platform for four Liberal Democrat politicians. Healthwatch Sutton is supposed to be an 'independent' body with statutory powers ‘to ensure the voice of the consumer is strengthened and heard’. Healthwatch Sutton has organised a public meeting this Thursday 17th July. The panel of 5 includes the Interim Chief Executive of Epsom & St Helier Hospitals (Chrisha Alagaratnam) and four Liberal Democrat politicians (Tom Brake MP, Paul Burstow MP, Cllr. Ruth Dombey, and former Mayor Brendan Hudson, who is now Chair of Sutton Clinical Commissioning Group and charged with making ….). Siobhan Tate, Labour’s Prospective MP for Carshalton and Wallington has been listening to local people’s concerns about this meeting and has offered to sit on the panel to address the political bias. People are unhappy about having to sign up for a Healthwatch meeting and pre-submit questions via Tom Brake MP’s party-political website. Healthwatch say they accepted Tom Brake’s offer of administrative help because they are a small charity with limited (local authority) funding. Siobhan Tate does not accept this: ‘it would have cost Healthwatch nothing to use their own email address to collate replies from the 28 people who have so far signed up to the event on Brake’s website. The published purpose of the meeting is to enable people to 'find out how NHS services will be improved locally'. This stands in contrast to Healthwatch’s stated mission which is ‘all about local voices being able to influence the delivery and design of local services’ Siobhan Tate says: ‘this meeting is being used a means for politicians to harvest data through pre-submitted questions and to give false-reassurance to people about the South West London Collaborative Commissioning Group's five year plan.’ In a statement Healthwatch Sutton say: Healthwatch Sutton has been clear, from the outset of the planning of this meeting that it wishes to maintain a balanced a-political position in relation to any possible changes to local services. As yet, Healthwatch Sutton has not formally consulted local people about the future of health services in Sutton and as such is not able to represent local people from any particular stand point. We would need more information before starting a consultation with our members and the public on the future of health services in Sutton. The lack of transparency and consultation in the process of planning for the future of health services in South West London is a real concern for campaigners including Siobhan Tate, Keep Our NHS Public, and Keep Our St Helier Hospital. Even the Leader of Sutton Council, Ruth Dombey shares similar concerns. At the recent Health and Wellbeing Board, Councillor Dombey refused to approve the CCG’s five year strategic plan because it had already been submitted to NHS and ‘Councillors were not given the chance to help shape it’. Siobhan Tate says: If Sutton’s politicians truly wanted people to be informed about the future of local health services they would demand that the GP-led body (which is ‘tasked with addressing a funding gap of around £210 million per year’) makes its public meetings more accessible to the public. Siobhan Tate has attempted to attend the four most recent CCG meetings. These meetings have been held in the middle of the working day at different locations. Two of those meetings were cancelled at short notice without any public communication. It was simply the case that all evidence of the meeting disappeared from the website the day before. At the most recent Sutton CCG meeting in June, Frances Cornford (Keep Our NHS Public Sutton) noted that at the March meeting, Sutton CCG said there was going to be a public engagement strategy on the 5 year plan and asked why no strategy had been forthcoming. No satisfactory answer was given by the three CCG members who attempted to answer the question. Frances Cornford was left to remind the board that they had a statutory obligation not just to engage but to consult the public. Siobhan Tate
  • Score: 8

2:58pm Tue 15 Jul 14

Georgia Lewis says...

Somehow I ended up on Tom Brake's mailing list - that is the only way I knew about the meeting. If the only way this meeting has really been promoted is via Tom Brake's mailing list with the RSVPs and the questions for pre-approval going via Tom Brake's website, it is hardly a politically neutral event. It is, however, a handy way to stack an event with a LibDem-dominated panel with LibDem supporters.

Furthermore, a system whereby questions have to be submitted in advance for pre-approval is ridiculous. Why is the panel so afraid of taking questions without notice from the floor?
Somehow I ended up on Tom Brake's mailing list - that is the only way I knew about the meeting. If the only way this meeting has really been promoted is via Tom Brake's mailing list with the RSVPs and the questions for pre-approval going via Tom Brake's website, it is hardly a politically neutral event. It is, however, a handy way to stack an event with a LibDem-dominated panel with LibDem supporters. Furthermore, a system whereby questions have to be submitted in advance for pre-approval is ridiculous. Why is the panel so afraid of taking questions without notice from the floor? Georgia Lewis
  • Score: 15

4:33pm Tue 15 Jul 14

Forty_two says...

It's a rare day, but I happen to agree with every single comment on this page.
It's a rare day, but I happen to agree with every single comment on this page. Forty_two
  • Score: 14

7:01pm Tue 15 Jul 14

David A says...

Further to my earlier comment, if the Guardian wishes to maintain a reputation for balanced reporting, then it would do well to avoid publishing political photo opportunity stock-shots at the top of articles such as this. The event portrayed gives the false impression that the politicians in shot (Brake and Burstow) genuinely campaign to save St Helier from cuts and closures. Hansard proves the opposite. Those "worthies" both voted for the Health and Social Care Act and clause 119 (the hospital closure Act), guaranteeing that St Helier Hospital's services remain at risk.
Further to my earlier comment, if the Guardian wishes to maintain a reputation for balanced reporting, then it would do well to avoid publishing political photo opportunity stock-shots at the top of articles such as this. The event portrayed gives the false impression that the politicians in shot (Brake and Burstow) genuinely campaign to save St Helier from cuts and closures. Hansard proves the opposite. Those "worthies" both voted for the Health and Social Care Act and clause 119 (the hospital closure Act), guaranteeing that St Helier Hospital's services remain at risk. David A
  • Score: 8

11:03pm Tue 15 Jul 14

David7 says...

Just astonishing.
Just astonishing. David7
  • Score: 5

11:15am Wed 16 Jul 14

Pippa Maslin says...

I agree with all of the comments posted thus far - especially David A's, which are spot on!
I agree with all of the comments posted thus far - especially David A's, which are spot on! Pippa Maslin
  • Score: 3

11:24am Wed 16 Jul 14

Georgia Lewis says...

"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."

Firstly, Healthwatch has a website and staff and email addresses and a social media presence, all of which amount to a very cost-effective way for people to register for the event.

Secondly, if Healthwatch was concerned that its mailing list was not extensive enough, they could have contacted multiple community groups (again, by the power of the internet and social media so it would not be expensive...) to put the word out rather than just using Tom Brake's mailing list. Seriously, when I got the email from Tom Brake in my inbox, I thought it was a LibDem event.
"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." Firstly, Healthwatch has a website and staff and email addresses and a social media presence, all of which amount to a very cost-effective way for people to register for the event. Secondly, if Healthwatch was concerned that its mailing list was not extensive enough, they could have contacted multiple community groups (again, by the power of the internet and social media so it would not be expensive...) to put the word out rather than just using Tom Brake's mailing list. Seriously, when I got the email from Tom Brake in my inbox, I thought it was a LibDem event. Georgia Lewis
  • Score: 4

11:46am Wed 16 Jul 14

David7 says...

A charity demonstrating such political bias is surely breaking the Charity Commission’s rules?
A charity demonstrating such political bias is surely breaking the Charity Commission’s rules? David7
  • Score: 5

4:56pm Wed 16 Jul 14

Niki R says...

I am appalled that Tom Brake gets to vet questions that challenge his actions and support for legislation that threatens St Helier. Is this a democracy or not? If this meeting goes ahead we must be heard, whether he deems our questions 'friendly' or not!
I am appalled that Tom Brake gets to vet questions that challenge his actions and support for legislation that threatens St Helier. Is this a democracy or not? If this meeting goes ahead we must be heard, whether he deems our questions 'friendly' or not! Niki R
  • Score: 6

12:12pm Thu 17 Jul 14

Georgia Lewis says...

Healthwatch say they are merely using Tom Brake's website for admin purposes to save a bit of cash. Can they really guarantee that given the questions have to be submitted via Tom Brake's website that they will not be circumvented by Tom Brake or anyone else in his office? Why did they not just publicise one of their own email addresses for RSVPs and questions?

And there is still no answer as to why questions have to be approved in advance. I ask it again, what is the panel for tonight's meeting afraid of?
Healthwatch say they are merely using Tom Brake's website for admin purposes to save a bit of cash. Can they really guarantee that given the questions have to be submitted via Tom Brake's website that they will not be circumvented by Tom Brake or anyone else in his office? Why did they not just publicise one of their own email addresses for RSVPs and questions? And there is still no answer as to why questions have to be approved in advance. I ask it again, what is the panel for tonight's meeting afraid of? Georgia Lewis
  • Score: 1

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