Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt: Not a done deal – the fight to protect QEQM’s stroke unit continues

Labour's Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt

Earlier this week, the people of Thanet heard the devastating news that QEQM hasn’t made it onto the list of three hospitals earmarked for a new hyper-acute stroke unit.

If this decision is allowed to stand, our stroke unit will be closed and those of us suffering a stroke will have to make the long journey to Ashford. I believe many of us may die or be disabled as a result.

As part of Save Our NHS in Kent, the group that’s been campaigning to have QEQM considered as an option, I’m absolutely furious.

Thousands of people in Thanet signed our petition to keep stroke services at QEQM. Thousands of people have been ignored.

QEQM has a good record of treating stroke sufferers. It serves people all along the coast and those living inland. This part of Kent, with a fast-growing elderly population and a large amount of poverty, has more incidents of stroke than wealthier parts of the county, according to a map produced by Kent’s Public Health Observatory. This map darkens in areas where the most strokes happen, revealing a shadowy turquoise coastal trail.

When the Government decided in 2012 that responsibility for health services should be devolved to local commissioners, it passed on a duty to ‘reduce inequalities between patients with respect to their ability to access health services’.

Surely, then, QEQM should at least have been on the list of possible hospitals in Kent to have one of the new state-of-the-art stroke units?

The clinical commissioners certainly seem to be doing their damnedest to get everything tied up at top speed, even before the final decision is taken, which they say won’t be until December or January. I understand that stroke staff at QEQM were offered incentives to move to Ashford weeks before the William Harvey Hospital was named as part of the preferred option.

Significantly, the stroke consultant who’s been leading the charge to reduce our six stroke units to three is based at William Harvey Hospital – the only hospital to appear in each of the five options.

The argument has been used that better treatment justifies distanced travelled, but the evidence simply doesn’t stack up that this is true outside high-density urban areas.

The people making the decision admit that 2% of people in the county will be worse off under these proposals. 2.1% of people in Thanet suffered a stroke or similar loss of blood to the brain over the last few years. You do the maths.

Thanet is the poorest part of Kent. The decisions about what happens to us appear to have been made in the richest parts of Kent. At a recent meeting of the Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee – which scrutinises health proposals and is largely made up of Conservative county councillors from Kent and Medway – not one councillor from Thanet was present.

Thanet’s two Conservative MPs have swung this way and that on the unit.

North Thanet’s MP, Sir Roger Gale, currently supports the decision to shut down the stroke unit at QEQM while South Thanet’s MP, Craig Mackinlay, has flatly refused to defend our threatened stroke unit in Parliament because he perceives it as a fight he can’t win.

I worry that if we tolerate this, then our A&E will be next. More staff will leave, more equipment will go. We will find ourselves having to take longer and longer journeys for the sake of our health, and our loved ones will have to spend more time and money to visit us.

This is not, of course, what health bosses will tell you. They’ll give you a load of jargon about taking away this healthcare.

But don’t despair – there’s still everything to play for and a way to play for it.

Wealthy Kent might have more money than Thanet, but Thanet has more people. Let’s use people power to overturn this decision before it’s set in stone.

Sign the petition calling on East Kent’s health boss to think again, and join us to raise your voice in protest outside QEQM hospital at 12 noon on Saturday 6 October.

And finally, at election time, remember that Labour councillors will fight for our health services and a Labour Government will restore decisions for the NHS to the Department of Health, which will avoid vested interests determining the future of our health.


  1. Well said Rebecca, I got elected to represent Margate and defend services in the area, our mps in Thanet are useless and need replacing with politicians who understand the area

  2. Losing the Stroke Service at QEQM is very worrying. As the Health Overview and Scrutiny member for Labour in Kent, I met with the CCG the day after to raise these concerns. To ask a range of questions about what services will remain, how transport will be managed, options for a ‘Dutch Ambulance’ (an ambulance with a scanner on board). I have also requested a further meeting between local people who have used the Stroke service and commissioners clinicians and politicians. I think it’s utterly vital we take practical steps to try to work out a better solution.

    The joint HOSC where this was discussed does not allow a Labour member to sit. However I sought and received permission from the chair and the following statement was read out.

    I’m aware that Kent Labour group don’t have a seat on the JHOSC.

    However I am writing to you to express our serious, persistent concerns in respect of the JHOSC tomorrow which features the Kent and Medway Stroke review.

    I would be grateful if you could use your ‘chairs discretion’ to share my comments with other JHOSC members and with those commissioners present. As it’s such an important and emotional issue.

    These are our concerns

    We believe we need a HASU in Thanet. We the Labour Party have received more than 5,000 petition signatures supporting this.

    120 mins door to needle time is too long and does not have the confidence of the public. The public are opposed to this and any significant health care provision MUST have the confidence of the public.

    Workforce gaps. These must be fully met and services should not be configured around gaps, rather workforce gaps should be addressed.

    Regarding social care. We have a continued shortage of skilled social care workers in Thanet and we wonder how will this be addressed. 

    January 19th 2019 is deadline for the decision on the Stroke service. What assurances will be given to ensure full, robust and meaningful on going information and consultation will continue to take place with the public in Thanet.

    Kind regards

    Cllr Karen Constantine.

  3. You lot at Labour don’t miss a trick! Ride on the back of peoples fear and promise the earth, you must think we all have short memories, of course we all want everything and on a plate, but as you well know, it’s not possible, and yes I remember Labours promises of old,and now with your words can’t describe leader at the helm, who with his rather motley collection of comrades at his side, you can get lost at Election time.

  4. The figure of 2% refers to the percentage of people in Kent who will be unable to reach a Super Acute Stroke Unit within the hour, not the percentage who will be worse off as a result of these proposals. In Thanet we will ALL be worse off because we currently have a good stroke unit on our doorstep. I don’t want to be among the 2% unlucky ones who won’t make it to the William Harvey Hospital in time – that is not equality of services, which we desperately need in an area of high derivation like Thanet.

  5. Glenn, so you support downgrading our local hospital, what we can’t afford is Tory austerity, lets end the policy of taking from the many to give tax cuts to the very rich

  6. Thanks Rebecca, you’re saying it like it is rather than hiding behind soundbites given to you by the NHS bosses that are trying to push the plan through (unlike some other local politicians). This needs to be said, and we have to be very clear about this – we can only stop this unevidenced plan going ahead if we all come out and protest – we people from all parts of the community out on Saturday 6th October (2 weeks today). Go to the Save Our NHS in Kent facebook page to find out more.

  7. ‘Wealthy Kent might have more money than Thanet, but Thanet has more people. Let’s use people power to overturn this decision before it’s set in stone’ Well said Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt

  8. The thing about this “it would be great but it’s not realistic” line of argument is – Craig Mackinlsy said that at first but then changed his mind. Even he, as someone who accepts the general policy of austerity, knows this plan is just not acceptable. People will die if it goes through. Well done sonik for analysing this and mobilising quickly against it and to labour for standing up to this and backing the right side on this issue. The two Tory Thanet MPs have flipped flopped on this and failed to analyse this in enough detail as their professional and moral responsibilities require. Mackinlay now states this plan is unacceptable. The meaningful debate is over. Now it’s just a matter of whether people power can oppose and stop this unfair decision or not.

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  1. Not a done deal

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