A vote at Kent County Council’s stroke Joint Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee this month to recommend referring back to government the decision by the NHS Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups (JCCCG) to implement three hyper-acute stroke units (HASUs) across Kent has failed.
The temporary committee, created exclusively for the stroke review and made up of 12 county councillors, voted 7-5 against the first motion put forward requesting the referral.
A second, adapted motion backing the NHS decision but with a proviso it be re-examined if demographic changes took place had 6 votes in favour and 5 against, with 1 abstention from Councillor Paul Messenger who represents Ramsgate.
The hyper-acute unit plan will mean the end of acute stroke services at hospitals including the QEQM at Margate.
The nearest unit to Thanet will be at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital. Units at Darent Valley and Maidstone are due to go live in March 2020 followed by WHH in spring 2021.
Campaigners from Save Our NHS in Kent have been fighting the proposals for more than a year and say a fourth HASU is needed at QEQM. They had been urging members of the Kent County Council’s joint health scrutiny committee to vote to refer the decision back to government.
Sonik now hope a vote by the Medway health scrutiny panel will refer the decision back to be examined by government. A decision is also due be made by Kent’s health scrutiny committee, a permanent body of 17 councillors unlike to joint committee, on March 22. Legal advice is being taken by the panel over whether a decision can be made during purdah in the run up to this May’s local elections.
If referred to government it means the hyper-acute stroke unit plan would be re-examined.
Sonik say the recommendation would be a huge victory for Thanet people. But the group has also criticised Cllr Messenger for not backing the recommendation at the meeting on March 1.
Carly Jeffrey, of SONIK, said “SONIK want the HOSC vote to happen as soon as possible, and have been briefing councillors with vital information they will not have received from NHS bosses. One HOSC councillor commented to me that he had received many very eloquent and persuasive letter from the public on this issue; it’s good to know that the councillors are listening.
“Cllr Paul Messenger failed to vote for a recommendation to refer the stroke plans, that will do so much damage to Thanet, back to government. His was the deciding vote. Although the HOSC can still make the right choice and vote to refer back, it is inexplicable to us in SONIK that he voted against this motion. He is saying one thing and doing another, and therefore he must give an explanation for his actions”.
However Cllr Messenger said he did not support a proposal to back the NHS plans, He said: “As a substitute member of the JHOSC I asked a number of questions during the meeting about the potential impact on residents of Thanet of the proposed 3 sites for HASUs. Before the proposals the Chairman reminded us that the ability to refer the decision made by the Joint CCG Committee was still with the individual councils and we were only making a recommendation to those individual HOSCs.
“The first proposal was a recommendation that referred to the exclusion of Medway Maritime Hospital from the final decision and I voted against as it was of no benefit to Thanet or Kent residents at all.
“The second proposal was to recommend agreement of the decision made by the Joint CCG, I clearly couldn’t support this proposal but I realised my vote made no difference to the outcome so I abstained. The real decision will be made at the meeting of the Kent HOSC later in March.”
Rachel Jones, Director for the Kent and Medway Stroke Review, said: “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.
“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.”
A JCCG report says East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) concluded it would not be possible to run two Hyper Acute Stroke Units from its sites because it would be difficult to deliver due to recruitment issues and the risks around staff relocation. Of the sites run by the trust (QEQM, William Harvey and Canterbury), the William Harvey Hospital was identified as the best option for a hyper acute stroke unit.
It is planned provide additional funding of £500,000 per year for the ambulance service which will ‘upskill’ paramedics. The JCCG say there will also be an increase in specialist stroke staff including an estimated 8.8 additional consultants, up to 107 additional nurses and 46 additional physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
But campaigners say the journey time from Thanet to Ashford, which takes more than an hour, will put lives at risk.
They have raised a petition to get the decision referred back to the Secretary of State which can be found here
Stroke campaign meeting
There is a separate meeting being held by in Ramsgate this week, organised by county councillor Karen Constantine, to look at raising funds for a Judicial Review.
She said: “I think sustained pressure from our community could lead to a ‘back down’ on this disastrous decision.
“The Thanet Stroke Campaign is a community focussed and non-party political group. We want to save our stroke unit. We plan to raise funds for a Judicial Review to challenge the decision to site a Hyper Acute Stroke Unit in Ashford. It is simply too far away.”
The meeting, co-chaired by district councillors Jenny Matterface and Ros Binks, will take place on Wednesday (March 13) at the Oddfellows Hall, 142 High Street, from 7pm.