Campaigners gathered outside QEQM Hospital in Margate today (February 3) to protest at plans to move stroke services to a hyper acute unit in Ashford.
Health chiefs want to create three hyper acute stroke units for Kent and Medway – meaning current services will be removed from some hospitals, including QEQM in Margate.
Protesters, including Ramsgate councillor Karen Constantine, say the plan will put lives at risk.
A shortlist of options for the specialist units lists only the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford for east Kent.
The NHS in Kent and Medway – which includes all 8 Clinical Commissioning Groups – Bexley in south east London and the High Weald area of East Sussex are now consulting on the proposals.
The shortlist, which is subject to further assessment and final approval, is:
- Darent Valley Hospital, Medway Maritime Hospital, William Harvey Hospital
- Darent Valley Hospital, Maidstone Hospital, William Harvey Hospital
- Maidstone Hospital, Medway Maritime Hospital, William Harvey Hospital
- Tunbridge Wells Hospital, Medway Maritime Hospital, William Harvey Hospital
- Darent Valley Hospital, Tunbridge Wells Hospital and William Harvey Hospital
The NHS says hyper acute stroke units will reduce deaths as each will have a multi-disciplinary team of specialist stroke clinicians, seven days a week caring for patients in the critical first 72 hours.
Dr David Hargroves, clinical lead for the stroke review and senior stroke consultant, said: “There is clear evidence that patients benefit most from being treated at a hyper acute stroke unit in the first 72 hours after their stroke, even if that means ambulances driving past the nearest A&E department to get to one.”
“We know that patients might currently be able to get to an A&E fairly quickly and the thought of travelling further seems to go against the ‘Act F.A.S.T.’ advice. With stroke, what counts is the total time it takes from calling 999 to having a scan and starting the right treatment.
“Spending 15 minutes in an ambulance but waiting three hours in A&E is worse than an hour in an ambulance going to a specialist unit that can scan you and start treatment within 30 minutes of arrival. It is also vital for patients’ recovery that over those first three days they are seen by a stroke consultant every day, and regularly assessed by specialist therapists – something we can’t always offer at the moment.”
But campaigners say Thanet lives will be at risk because of the journey time to Ashford.
Councillor Karen Constantine, who was at the forefront of today’s demonstration, said: “Until recently, medical experts referred to The Golden Hour as the 60 minutes a stroke victim had to reach hospital and get treatment. I appreciate advances in medicine may have extended that time, but Thanet is over an hour from William Harvey in Ashford and that’s without the time you wait for an ambulance.
“What happens when you get there? In December 25% of emergency hospital admissions by ambulance had to wait over half an hour to be seen. Many of those waited in the back of an ambulance or on trolleys in corridors.
“How can we have confidence in plans to cut the number of places for treatment when our current number have queues around the block?”
The demonstration, which lasted a couple of hours, drew a considerable response from passing drivers.
Karen said: “Cars, buses, lorries, bikes and ambulances have all shown their support. This is a threat which touches us all. One in 4 will suffer a stroke at some time. Thanet’s health isn’t great. The removal of stroke services puts us in the 5% of the population that doesn’t have vital facilities within an hour’s reach. We need those facilities here and that’s what we’re fighting for.”
The protest was organised by Save Our NHS in Kent. The campaign group says a march from the hospital is now being organised for Saturday 24 February at noon.
There is also a petition against the proposals to remove services from QEQM which has more than 1,350 signatures so far. Find it here.
The consultation on the proposed changes is open now and runs for 10 weeks until midnight on Friday 13 April .
To take part, people can read the consultation document, take part in public meetings and events, and complete an online or postal questionnaire. There will also be specific engagement through focus groups and other work with people whose views are less likely to be heard, and people whose age, ethnicity or other factors puts them at higher risk of a stroke.
A Thanet consultation meeting is scheduled for Minster village hall, in the High Street, on March 7 from 2pm to 4pm.
To register attendance click here
To find out more about how to respond to the consultation visit www.kentandmedway.nhs.uk/stroke.