A consultation on changes to stroke services held in Margate on Monday (February 26) broke down when more than half the audience left before the end.
A panel of NHS officials, including Dr Tony Martin, Head of Thanet’s Clinical Commissioning Group, and Dr David Hargroves of East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust, presented proposals which will mean the closure of the stroke unit in Margate hospital in favour of a hyper acute unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
Kent and Medway NHS Trusts want the create three hyper units, saying each will 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.
The NHS says as staff in the new hyper acute stroke units see and treat more stroke patients, they will become even more expert in their care.
But Save Our NHS In Kent (SONIK) group and other health campaigners say Thanet lives will be put at risk by having to make the journey to Ashford.
Two protests have so far taken place outside QEQM Hospital in Margate and more are planned in a bid to overturn the proposals and retain stroke services in Thanet.
A SONIK spokesman said during the consultation meeting on Monday many in the audience were unhappy with answers given by the panel.
The group says the meeting finally fell to pieces when organisers tried to get the audience to split into round table discussions.
The SONIK spokesman said: “Splitting into round table groups would mean that people would have to discuss questions set out by the organisers. But most of the audience wanted to go on asking questions of the panel and refused to split into groups.”
It was at this point that a large number of the audience, which included health campaigners, walked out of the event.
The spokesperson said: “We believe the whole local NHS consultation process is a shambles. We are calling on the NHS authorities to abandon their present format for public consultations and instead hold proper public meetings where people can quiz officials and have a vote at the end.
“Most importantly, we must have an option on the table which allows us to have a stroke unit at Margate hospital.”
A petition raised to save Margate stroke services can be found here
More from SONIK can be found here
‘Hour of questions’
A spokesman for the Kent and Medway NHS group said: “The NHS is very grateful to everyone who came to the stroke consultation meeting in Margate on a cold, snowy night. After 30 minutes of a presentation and an hour of questions to the NHS panel, the meeting moved to discussions at tables, as planned.
“This was to support people who prefer speaking in a smaller group to have their say. Some people made it clear this was what they wanted, and the views and concerns they raised in those discussions were recorded, along with feedback from the earlier part of the meeting. Others did not want to take part in these small focused conversations and left at that point.
“We value every response to the consultation.”
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.”
Thanet consultation events
Two more consultation events are scheduled for Thanet. These are at Minster village hall, in the High Street, on March 7 from 2pm to 4pm and St Peter’s Church hall, Hopeville Avenue, St Peters on March 24 from 10am to 12.30pm.
Kent and Medway NHS has also agreed to use leaflets to notify residents in Thanet, Sheppey and coastal areas of the consultation events.