Letter from Claire Coutinho – September 2023

A few weeks ago we had the fantastic news that Royal Surrey and East Surrey Hospitals will be receiving £8.8m to expand capacity this winter. At East Surrey, this will build two new modular wards with space for 64 beds. At Royal Surrey, there will be four new cubicles in A&E, eight  new same-day emergency care assessment spaces and eight new spaces in the acute medical unit. 

Over the summer, I spoke to lots of you about how cutting NHS waiting lists is one of the prime minister’s top priorities, and how we are making progress to safeguard the future of health services with our 15-year NHS Workforce Plan. I know many residents worry about accessing care if they need it, so this extra £8.8 million for our local hospitals will go some way to increase capacity over the next six months or so.

Over the holidays, I’m sure many of you relied on childminders to provide education and care for your children. In my work as minister for children, families and wellbeing I’ve shadowed several childminders and I’m in awe of the work they do, but as many as one in eight are being barred from doing the job they love in their own homes due to restrictions from their landlords.

As part of our largest ever expansion of free childcare, I’ve written to housing associations, home builders and landlords to ask them to allow childminders to use their properties wherever they can. Alongside this, we are raising the hourly rate paid to childminders, working with councils to make sure they get paid monthly, and making it easier for childminders to work together in non-domestic properties, like they do in France.

One space that could open their doors to childminders is St John’s Church in Hurst Green. When I visited, the ladies gave me an update on their plans to renovate the building to make it more suitable as a community hub and to co-locate more services for residents in the village. I’m going to work with them to explore grants to fund their plans, and put them in touch with other East Surrey community leaders who have done a really good job of turning their facilities into similar hubs.

I held a meeting to discuss Southern Gravel’s plans for the future of Oxted Quarry. Although MPs don’t have roles in the planning process, this looks like a really sensible approach to get rid of HGVs from local roads, make safety improvements to Chalkpit Lane and provide affordable, sensitively-designed homes locally. I was encouraged by their plans to give half the site to the National Trust and restore 90% of the quarry site back to nature, with new publicly accessible picnic spots, nature trails, and new woodland.

In its prime, this was one of the most important quarries near London and it’s an integral part of our history – the lime kilns on the site produced lime mortar that would have helped to build much of Victorian and Edwardian London. They will be restored and opened up for the public to enjoy, and a new education centre will welcome visitors from local schools to learn about the history of the quarry.

Finally, I hope you had a chance to respond to the consultation on the future of railway ticket offices, which closed on 1 September. The next step is for the passenger bodies to go through the responses and decide which ticket offices will remain open. I do think the rationale for their closure makes sense, given that just 10% of train tickets are now bought from ticket offices – but I want to ensure disabled passengers are able to use the railways safely. I had a really useful meeting with some visually impaired constituents during the consultation period, and I’ll be attending a meeting with GTR and the Surrey Coalition for Disabled People soon.

Visit my website for more information or to contact me.

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