Some 400 campaigners have joined a march from the QEQM in Margate to Westwood Cross in protest at the proposed closure of the hospital’s stroke unit.
General stroke services are currently provided in all the hospitals across Kent and Medway, including the QEQM, but there are no specialist hyper acute units. NHS bosses in the region say they want to create three, larger, specialist units – with the nearest one to Thanet being at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford. It would mean the end of current services in Margate.
The Kent and Medway NHS group says the hyper acute stroke units will each have a multi-disciplinary team of specialist stroke clinicians, seven days a week. The units will care for all stroke patients across Kent and Medway and from some neighbouring communities in Sussex and South-East London, in the critical first 72 hours after a stroke.
But campaigners say Ashford is too far and people’s lives could be put at risk.
A spokesperson for the Save Our NHS In Kent group, which organised the march, said: “The official advice is that speed of treatment is vital for stroke victims — so we believe Thanet people will die as a result of having to travel to the nearest new proposed unit in Ashford.
“And where’s the sense in closing a stroke unit in Thanet, an area of high deprivation and ill health where stroke victims are likely to be most common? It’s madness.”
Among those campaigning was Labour county councillor Karen Constantine.
She said: “We need a further consultation exercise, this march demonstrates the strength of feeling there is about this.
“We now have three consultation events, one has been added for Broadstairs, but we also need one in Ramsgate for those that are not able to travel.
“Some three to four hundred people were here today, I am amazed and absolutely delighted, There are plans for more demonstrations and I think the numbers will grow and grow,
“It is time for the NHS senior commissioners to actually listen to the people of Thanet and take on board their real concerns.”
Cllr Constantine said bystanders and crowds at Westwood clapped the demonstrators in a show of approval. She added: “We are really grateful to the NHS staff at QEQM and to Westwood Cross for letting us march there.”
Cllr Constantine has written to county council leader Paul Carter to ask for his support for the Kent and Medway NHS to reconsider the hyper acute unit shortlist, with the possibility of including QEQM.
She told Cllr Carter: “The current consultation does not adequately address the undisputed low health outcome discrepancies between Thanet and the rest of Kent. These should be fully taken into account. Unless they are taken into account in a robust and meaningful way the commissioners are not properly discharging their statutory duties to reduce such inequalities.
“Further, urgent consideration should be given to the opportunity to improve Thanet’s economic prospects, again it is undisputed that Thanet lags woefully behind the rest of Kent. By siting a HASU in Thanet the local economy would be boosted. For every pound invested in health services you get between £2.60 and £6 back.”
A public consultation on the proposals runs until April 13.
Dr David Hargroves, Clinical Lead for Stroke Medicine at East Kent Hospital University NHS Foundation Trust, said the reorganisation will ensure everyone gets the best care possible.
He added: “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. However, with stroke, what counts is the total time it takes from calling 999 to having a brain 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 offer at the moment.”
Consultation events in Thanet
Minster village hall, in the High Street, on March 7 from 2pm to 4pm
Margate football ground, Hartsdown Road, Margate on February 26 from 6.30pm to 8.30pm.
St Peter’s Church hall, Hopeville Avenue, St Peters on March 24 from 10am to 12.30pm.