Police had to turn people away from a meeting on the future of threatened Epsom Hospital last night after the venue ran out of space.
More than 300 residents, campaigners, GPs and councillors packed into the main hall of Blenheim High School, in Longmead Road, Epsom.
MP Chris Grayling, who organised the public meeting, repeated his demand that the current review of services at hospitals in the area be halted because it was being rushed and had not properly assessed local needs.
The audience also heard a presentation by Jill Evans, of the Surrey Downs Clinical Commissioning Group who sits on the clinical strategy group of the Better Services Better Value (BSBV) review, and Michael Bailey, joint medical director of the BSBV review, on what Epsom Hospital’s inclusion in the review could mean for its services.
Next Thursday they are expected to announce their recommendations for the future of A&E and maternity units at Epsom, St Helier, Croydon, Kingston and St George’s.
The meeting, which overflowed into the school’s canteen and saw latecomers turned away by police due to the lack of seating capacity, was chaired jointly by Mr Grayling and Paul Beresford, MP for Mole Valley.
Dr Evans explained the reasoning behind the BSBV review which is to "provide the best possible care for our patients" by increasing the standards of care in the health service.
She said: "The standards of care across the patch are not the same. Although there are some areas with excellent care, there are areas of deficiency.
"There is a feeling that the motivation is a financial one but that’s not the case."
She said the inclusion of Epsom Hospital within BSBV in November did not mean it was at a disadvantage and insisted that the "BSBV process has genuinely involved Surrey in a genuine way".
Dr Evans said: "There certainly needs to be change and I think we know that. No decision has been made as to where the different services will be.
"We want Epsom to be a vibrant site with services which will support most of the community.
"Even if it’s not an acute hospital we would look to provide a lot of services there so it would only be for the specialised services that people would need to travel."
Addressing concerns about how travelling times would increase with the reconfiguration of services, Mr Bailey said: "Would you want to travel a bit further and come out alive or travel a shorter distance and come out dead? It’s your choice."
Dr Evans and Mr Bailey then answered questions from the audience - many of which raised concerns about Epsom Hospital’s inclusion within BSBV at the "last minute".
A GP from the Derby Medical Centre, in Epsom, was applauded when he said: "I am very worried about the transport times between Epsom and South West London.
"It’s simply not true to say that Surrey GPs have had as much representation on this as London GPs.
"This has been going since 2011. We were told about it at the end of 2012.
"It appears that decisions have been made long in advance by the GPs in London."
A protester from the Save Our Hospitals campaign group took the microphone to slam Mr Grayling as a "hypocrite".
He said: "I think Chris Grayling has got a particularly despicable role in this.
"He sits round the cabinet table agreeing NHS cuts and is coming back to his constituency and saying 'don’t cut services to Epsom Hospital'.
"This is a political meeting. They are his decisions."
Mr Beresford then apologised to the audience for the protester's intervention, saying that it was not a political meeting but a meeting about the future of the local hospital.
Another lady then accused Mr Grayling of being a traitor and was escorted out by police.
She said: "Saying this is not political is like saying the pope is not Catholic. All these decisions have been made by this Government, Mr Grayling’s government. So much for democracy."
Ending the meeting, Mr Grayling said: "One of the big reasons for having tonight was to send a message.
"There is a serious discussion to be had about how NHS services are provided in the future, but I am absolutely adamant that it has to be done in a way that gives this area a fair hearing.
"The rush between late November and literally next week when a decision is going to be taken about where services are to be configured, is too quick, too shallow and has not taken into account local needs to anything like what is necessary.
"A halt should be put to this process, and it should be done properly and in a sensible way and we can then have a mature debate about the future of health services in this area.
"After all the campaigning we have done over the past 13 years, never in a million years did I think we would find ourselves in a room talking about downgrading both Epsom and St Helier.
"You just have to look at a map to say ‘doesn’t that leave something of a hole?’.