Calls made for government or courts to step in over decision to shut Margate QEQM Hospital’s acute stroke unit

Campaigners shared their message Photo Carly Jeffrey

Calls are being made to take court action over a decision by Kent and Medway health chiefs to close the acute stroke service at Margate’s QEQM Hospital in favour of a specialist unit in Ashford.

On Thursday (February 14) 14 doctors on the Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups (JCCCG) voted in favour of proposals to overhaul stroke services and implement three hyper-acute units (HASUs) across Kent and Medway. Six doctors were absent from the vote.

HASUs, with seven day/24 hour specialist staffing and equipment, will be at Darent Valley Hospital, Maidstone Hospital and William Harvey Hospital – meaning the closure of acute services at Margate’s QEQM Hospital, Medway Hospital and Tunbridge Wells Hospital. Kent & Canterbury Hospital has already had its service withdrawn due to the removal of training doctors by Health Education England in March 2017.

The JCCCG expects the hyper-acute units at Darent Valley and Maidstone to go live in March 2020 followed by the William Harvey Hospital in spring 2021.

Health campaigners

The decision comes despite a sustained campaign for more than a year by Save Our NHS in Kent, isle county councillors and many members of the public.

SONiK has been fighting for a fourth HASU at QEQM saying journey times from Thanet to Ashford take too long and will put lives at risk. The group is now urging members of the Kent County Council’s health scrutiny committee to vote to refer the decision back to government when they discuss it again on March 1.

Carly Jeffrey, from SONiK, said: “SONIK is focusing all its efforts on getting Kent County Council to refer the stroke plan back to government. We hope we can persuade those on the HOSC committee of our case, which is very strong, and they will vote to take this step which will mean the plan must be independently reviewed.

“We know that Medway council look set to refer the plan back and they are also setting money aside for legal action. As a last resort, SONIK may also opt to apply for a judicial review. If that happens, we will need to fundraise quite a substantial sum, and we’re hoping that the Isle will do us proud and set up hundreds of fundraising events in all their communities.”

The call is backed by isle representatives including county councillor Karen Constantine and district councillor Lin Fairbrass.

Cllr Constantine has applied to the  chairperson of the  HOSC to put a motion forward asking for the referral to Secretary of State for Health Matt Hancock.

The Labour councillor said: “Like many people I have been stunned by the decision taken by the JCCCG.  On March 1, the Kent Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee meet in Maidstone County Hall and there is a final opportunity to refer this decision back to Matt Hancock the Secretary of State for Health.

“I have applied to the Chair of the HOSC, Cllr Sue Chandler, for permission to put this motion forward. My hope is as many of the HOSC committee members as possible will support me, and the people of Thanet, by voting to refer this decision back.

“However, it must be said some of those same councillors have already voted for this outcome. It could be extremely difficult to get them to think again and reverse their earlier decision. Notably, these are not Thanet councillors who appear to share the same concerns. “

Cllr Constantine said public response has show Thanet residents want to fight the decision.

She added: “ It’s time to come together to start a Judicial Review (a court proceeding where a judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action made by a public body.) This won’t be easy, but working together I believe we can do it.”

The action is also backed by UKIP district councillor Lin Fairbrass, who said: ““I have watched this situation unfold and am horrified that this decision has been reached. It’s a very poor decision for Thanet residents. If the decision isn’t reviewed and referred back then we can only pursue a Judicial Review as Medway is.”

Conservative county councillor Paul Messenger

Tory county councillor Paul Messenger also backs to call for a fourth HASU at QEQM. He said: “There is no doubt that HASU stroke care is far superior to the Monday to Friday emergency stroke cover presently deployed at QEQM for the residents of Thanet, so it goes without question that I would want HASU upgraded facilities at QEQM.”

Cllr Stuart Piper

Thanet Independent Councillors leader Stuart Piper said the HASU decision was ‘poor’ but the answer may be to find a completely new way to provide specialist equipment in Thanet.

He said: “It is a poor decision and should have been better planned. They should have presented the opportunities for specialist equipment to be in each of the new planned ‘Super GPs hubs’ and ensured that there was provision locally for the emergency 2 – 4 hours. Then they could move the patient to the new site in Ashford.

“There has not been any joined up thinking on this issue. A judicial review probably would not change the outcome and I think we could make the necessary upgrades inhouse by making better use of the three new surgeries.”

Liberal Democrat Angela Curwen said all HASU locations need to be reexamined. She said: “I would back calls for a judicial review and for a fourth HASU at QEQM.

“I also think the location of all the HASUs should be reviewed as I believe other areas are also poorly served. As Canterbury councillor Ida Linfield has said, she believes using real figures it should even be 5 or 6 HASUs for the population of Kent, Medway, East Sussex and Bexley.”

Photo Secamb

In a statement, stroke consultants from each of the four hospital trusts in Kent and Medway said:“People who live further away from the proposed specialist centres are understandably worried about how long it will  take them or a loved one to be transported there by ambulance. We have heard concern that stroke patients could come to harm as a result of longer travel times

“The reality is, sadly, that any stroke patient who dies within a few hours of having a stroke would almost certainly have died whether they were at home, in an ambulance or being cared for in the best stroke unit in the world. For the very small percentage of patients whose strokes are the cause of almost instant death, or who fall into a coma and never wake up, currently little can be done.

“However most people will survive their stroke, and the critical factor for them is how we can reduce their risk of dying in the following days, minimise their risk of long-term disability and therefore improve independence.

We can do that best by getting them to a specialist stroke centre where they can get clot-busting care within 30 minutes of arrival if they need it, and round-the-clock care for the vital first few days after their stroke.”

Rachel Jones, Director for the Kent and Medway Stroke Review, said: “We absolutely understand the concerns that some people have about the location of hyper acute stroke units in Kent and Medway agreed by the Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups for the Kent and Medway Review of Urgent Stroke Services.

“However, it is important to note that this work has been informed throughout by Kent and Medway’s stroke consultants and other stroke specialists, who looked at what is best for their patients, taking into account their experience, and the huge body of evidence set out by the Royal College of Physicians’ 2016 guidelines on stroke.

“As the stroke consultants said recently, the reality is, sadly, that any stroke patient who dies within a few hours of having a stroke would almost certainly have died whether they were at home, in an ambulance or being cared for in the best stroke unit in the world. For the very small percentage of patients whose strokes are the cause of almost instant death, or who fall into a coma and never wake up, currently little can be done.

“However most people will survive their stroke, and the critical factor for them is how we can reduce their risk of dying in the following days, minimise their risk of long-term disability and therefore improve independence.

“While undertaking the stroke review, we have considered the health and wellbeing of  the entire population who use Kent and Medway stroke services. We have carefully considered population growth, deprivation and travel times to potential hyper acute stroke units in our review. We believe the rigorous process that we have followed and the decision we made will enable us to best meet the needs of our whole population, and save an extra life a fortnight.

“We will, of course, comply with any requirements that a judicial review or referral to the Secretary of State brings but are aware that this will have an impact on the implementation of the HASUs across Kent and Medway.   Any delay to implementation will inevitably lead to more deaths and more disability than if we are able to go ahead as planned.”

Anyone interested in assisting with a ‘working panel’ process for the judicial review bid can contact [email protected]

To find out more about action from SONIK find the group on facebook here


  1. Cllr Stuart Piper is calling for ‘equipment’ in three GP super surgeries in Thanet. I have conversed with him about this issue by email, and I explained that SONIK his idea is very problematic. If he had attended any of the listening events held in Thanet, he would probably better understand why his plan is way off the mark. People who are having strokes should be seen by consultants, and consultants work in hospitals, not GP surgeries. Equipment alone isn’t enough – someone with stroke must be assessed by a stroke consultant before life saving drugs can be administered, and it makes sense to have consultants working in District General Hospitals, as they do currently. This plan has come about because NHS managers want to reduce the amount of locations where acute stroke care can be provided to just three locations across all of Kent. SONIK want to keep the acute stroke care unit that we already have in QEQM. Calling for consultants to be in three non-hospital locations across Thanet and away from an A&E is unrealistic, and is muddying the waters in an unhelpful way.

  2. We cannot let this lie as it is, an increase in pressure is needed on the government and by voting the nasty party out of office next time. These plans were set to happen with or without the consultations, we always knew this, and so did the MP’s who had privileged knowledge which is why they had made no effort to stand up for their constituents. Next will be the A&E, it is all a part of following americanised insurance for health. This is happening in other parts of the UK too. It is not about saving money as such but cutting us out of an NHS funded service. Tories for you again!

  3. Can’t someone start a petition?

    How many residents in Herne Bay, Thanet, Sandwich and Deal?

    Surely enough to make a positive difference to this appalling decision… Let’s all make the effort and unite in a cause that can potentially affect us all

  4. Seeing as thanet is a Tory stronghold and has been for many years I would guess most people in thanet are happy about these Tory cuts.

    People having a stroke need to be seen asap and not have over an hour drive in an ambulance, Margate needs to stay on , but when did the for us ever care about the people or the NHS ?

  5. I had a stroke at age 17, due to the formation of brain abcesses during a viral infection. I recovered well partly due to my age and having the strength to recover, but mainly because of the rapid treatment and care in hospital. Following this and intensive physiotherapy I was able to regain use of paralysed limbs, enabling me to continue with exams and get on with living my life. I wonder how different this would have been if I’d had to travel over an hour to get this vital treatment. I’m now 70 and thankful every day to the wonderful staff who looked after me and encouraged me in my recovery.

  6. What are the odds that every doctor who voted for this death sentence for thanet and south east Kent residents all live in the much wealthier North of Kent or London area unaffected by their selfish conceited voting.
    Every time some one dies as a result of this disgusting sham vote Rachel Jones and the doctors who voted for the early deaths of Thanet residents should be held legally accountable.

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