Health secretary Jeremy Hunt caught up in red tape during protest at south London hospital

Jonathan Mitchell

Jeremy Hunt found himself caught up in red tape as he was ambushed by a protester during a campaign visit to a south London Hospital.

The health secretary visited staff at St Helier hospital on Wednesday ahead of next month’s general election, but was cornered by a woman shouting that he was “demolishing” the NHS as he headed for the exits.

Mr Hunt hurried to his car and avoided the campaigner’s questions, getting his wing mirror caught in tape as he drove away.

Campaigners in the area have become concerned that acute services at the hospital, which includes A&E, critical care, and maternity wards, are set to be scrapped as part of NHS plans to make £22bn-worth of cuts across the country by 2020.

Jeremy Hunt was cornered as left St Helier's hospital on Wednesday (Sandra Ash)

A sustainability and transformation plan (STP) has been drawn up for south west London and states services in one of five hospitals in the area could be scrapped.

Mr Hunt has since pledged his support to St Helier and stressed there were no plans to close the hospital, but improvements have to be made.

Jeremy Hunt's caught tape on his car as he tried to make a swift exit (Sandra Ash)

Sandra Ash, a member of campaign group Keep Our St Helier Hospital, cornered Mr Hunt after hearing he would be visiting the hospital.

The campaigner shouted that the health secretary “should be ashamed of himself”, before asking “how does it feel all those people dying because of those actions”.

She told the Standard: “He is the figurehead of the NHS and I thought it would be a good opportunity to confront him.

“They are clearly targeting St Helier. I don’t think it’s in any doubt.

“It would have a major impact on the other hospitals which are at the moment at absolute crisis point themselves.”

“People on the maternity wards tell me that they are actually at crisis point. There is no way they can cope.”

South west London’s STP covers five major hospitals - Kingston, Croydon, St George’s and Epsom and St Helier.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt reiterated his backing to St Helier.

Jeremy Hunt has faced criticism during his time as health secretary over last year's junior doctors strikes (Neil Hall/PA)

He said: “St Helier has made huge strides in recent years and I was delighted to hear more on my visit about progress and plans for the future.

“There is no question that St Helier Hospital is here to stay, but we do need a plan for improving the facilities and the services on which local people rely.”

Ms Ash said she was “not surprised” Mr Hunt ignored her questions outside the hospital.

She added: “I didn’t expect him to answer my questions. It’s frustrating that they don’t speak to the public who will be affected by the decisions that they make.”

“It’s definitely an election ploy. I think they are concerned about Tories in the area.”

Mr Hunt thanked staff for the “warm welcome” in a tweet following the visit.

A spokeswoman for the NHS in south west London said: “We are not proposing to close any hospitals.

"We know we will continue to need all the hospitals we currently have. We have said previously that we don’t think every hospital has to provide every service."