Claims made by NHS chiefs about the future of St Helier hospital have been branded a “sick joke” by the leader of Sutton Council.

In a report into the future of NHS services in south London, NHS chiefs claim that visits to St Helier could be reduced by up to 40 per cent.

The report was one of the documents studied by the Better Services Better Value (BSBV) panel, which last month recommended that St Helier’s accident and emergency, maternity and children’s wards should be closed.

However, Sutton Council leader, Ruth Dombey, said: “The idea that the number of people using A&E can be cut by 40 per cent at a stroke is a sick joke.

“The number of people visiting St Helier A&E is increasing because the population is increasing. If they think that can be reduced they are living in a fantasy world.

“The fact that some people have no further treatment is irrelevant. Patients need the reassurance that only a real emergency department can provide.”

The Urgent and Emergency Care Clinical Working Group Final Clinical Report suggests that up to 40 per cent of patients who visited A&E could be treated outside hospitals in GP’s surgeries, patient’s own homes and other community settings.

However, 2010-11 alone St Helier Hospital treated 81,739 emergency cases, three per cent up on the previous year.

Councillor Dombey added: “All of the community services are useful, but how can we possibly believe that they can take the place of A&E or have the capacity to see more people than they do already?

“The BSBV review is recommending cuts to local hospital services without considering the fact that the money available for community services is also shrinking every year. How can social care services possibly pick up the tab?

“It’s very telling indeed that the National Clinical Advisory Team, which advises on the potential effectiveness of healthcare plans, has maintained a deafening silence since BSBV recommended this plan.

“Sutton’s residents have a right to know that their health is being properly looked after and this botched plan certainly doesn’t do that.”

Councillors have called a special meeting on June 11 to grill health service officials on the proposals.

The BSBV plan will be subject to public consultation once the BSBV programme board has approved the closures.