Kent NHS campaign group launches stroke services legal challenge

Protest from health campaigners

Campaign group Save Our NHS in Kent (SONiK) has today (May 14) lodged its application for judicial review regarding the controversial Kent and Medway stroke plans.

Campaigners fighting against proposed reforms to NHS services have filed the necessary papers which they hope will lead to a hearing being granted. If successful, their case against local NHS commissioners will be heard in the High Court later this year.

A  decision on the location for three hyper-acute stroke units (HASUs) across Kent & Medway was agreed by the Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups (JCCCG) in February.

The HASUs will be at Darent Valley Hospital, Maidstone Hospital and William Harvey Hospital. Acute services at Margate’s QEQM Hospital will be removed with Thanet patients needing to travel to Ashford for acute services.

Cllr Helen White (centre) in Ramsgate with Cllr Aram Rawf and Cllr Pauline Farrance

Cllr Helen Whitehead, from the SONIK campaign said: “SONIK contests that there must be at least four HASUs (hyper-acute stroke units) in the Kent and Medway area, as three cannot adequately serve the whole population. SONIK also argues that Thanet must have a HASU at QEQM, as the distance to Ashford is too far and we believe it will lead to lower survival rates and higher disability rates from stroke. Thanet doesn’t deserve to be left behind in this way, so we are campaigning on all fronts to try and stop it. Forty miles is too far even according to their own recommended guidelines”.

Thanet resident Marion Keppel has also launched a judicial review, meaning that if both are granted, two cases will be going to the high court.

Carly Jeffrey, of SONIK, said: “In the best interests of the local community, the legal team advising us shared our extensive research and legal arguments with the lawyers for the other case (Marion Keppel’s). These claims will remain separate as they call for different solutions, but supportive of each other. SONiK have assisted an individual to obtain legal aid for the case for four HASUs, and we are also fundraising a contribution to legal aid on behalf of the whole community.

“SONiK’s will be the lead case, which means that Leigh Day will be leading the legal arguments on behalf of SONiK and their claimant, whilst Irwin Mitchell on behalf of their client (Marion Keppel) has agreed with those arguments and is presenting complementary points.”

Thanet district councillor Candy Gregory, who is one of SONIK’s most active organisers, said “SONIK is very pleased to have reached this stage in the proceedings, and looks forward to hopefully being awarded a hearing, which we anticipate would be scheduled in the autumn of this year.

“We believe we have a very strong case, and we plan to do all that we can to ensure that Kent’s NHS services aren’t lost from areas of deprivation like Thanet. We are also hoping that there will be a referral back by the Kent County Council on May 21 – this is an equally important step to stopping the stroke plans from proceeding. We’re calling on our supporters to write emails and letters to the relevant councillors, in a repeat of our campaign earlier this year.”

Stroke survivor and SONIK supporter Barry King, who works in Asda in Ramsgate, said “It’s so important that SONIK are going to court. I’m proof of the fact that stroke patients need to be seen fast. I was treated at QEQM and they told me that I would have died if there had been a delay.”

The crowdfunder for SONIK’s judicial review can be found here:

Kent and Medway consultants say:

Kent and Medway stroke consultants say larger, specialist units in other parts of the country have been shown to improve outcomes for people who have had a stroke.

They point to Northumberland which went from three stroke units to one HASU for the whole area in 2015.

A spokesperson for the stroke review team said: “Some patients travel over 60 miles to get there – a journey that takes well over an hour. Because the Northumberland HASU has dedicated staff and scanners available 24/7, the time taken to give people clot-busting drugs after arriving at hospital has reduced by over 25 minutes, and over 80% of patients get them within an hour of arriving at hospital.

“There has been no increase in deaths and patients in Northumberland go home on average four days sooner since the HASU was set up. This is because they are recovering faster due to the better care and support they get.”

They add that there are plans to invest some £40 million in stroke services, bringing in more staff and improving buildings.

A statement from the review team says: “We believe we carried out a legal, rational, fair and lawful process. The decision to establish three hyper acute stroke units in Kent and Medway is supported by local, regional and national specialists, including the four hospital trusts  and the senior stroke consultants in Kent and Medway. However, we will of course comply with any finding of the court.”

A spokesman added: “Despite the tireless work of our dedicated staff, our existing stroke services do not consistently provide the standard of care people should be able to expect. They include the only unit rated E in England, and the only two units rated D in the south east. (A is the highest rating and E the lowest in the national Sentinel Stroke National Audit Programme (SSNAP), which is the authoritative source of stroke data in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.)

“Local and national stroke doctors agree that there is overwhelming evidence to show that the current under-performance of stroke services in Kent and Medway means more people are dying than would be expected, and people are being left with avoidable disability. This is wholly unacceptable and must change as a matter of urgency.

“Challenges and checks undertaken during the review established that the medical evidence shows the timescales for reaching and receiving treatment at the new units are both safe and achievable, and that the option approved – for hyper acute stroke units at Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Maidstone Hospital, and William Harvey Hospital in Ashford – is the one that will best deliver the necessary improvements.”

The stroke review decision is  to be discussed at the Kent County Council health and scrutiny overview meeting on May 21. Cllr Constantine and SONiK are both calling for the decision to be referred back to Secretary of State Matt Hancock.

SONIK are also urging all who can to attend the Refer it Back HOSC meeting and protest on May 21 at 9.30am outside County Hall, Maidstone.

“If successful, this could result in a substantial rethink of the Kent stroke plans”, said Carly Jeffrey. “The stroke plans and the proposals that could see QEQM lose its A&E department are interconnected; we must win this fight to stop the closure of QEQM’s acute stroke care in order to preserve the hospital going forward”.

To help SONIK in their ‘Refer it Back’ campaign, go to

More information can be found on SONiK’s facebook page:


  1. Well done SONiK. The plans to close the unit at QEQM are wrong, the Slash, Trash and Privatisers know they’re wrong which is why they set up such a flawed consultation process. I would urge residents to insist their KCC councillors refer the closure decision back to the Secretary of state for Health for review.

  2. The cardinal principle of health planning is ‘start with the patient’.this has come from Richmond house,Langley and hunt through the regional bureaucrat cost cutters certainly not public or patient needs and demands.the research is based upon demographically dense urban areas not small towns and depopulated areas with inadequate roads and is not QUALY based but short term outcomes.Doctors are poor medical statisticians and epidemiologists on the whole and will not have studied the detail critically enough.having said that the decision is conservative austerity politics and needs to be called out as such.

  3. Who is the client for Sonik’s Judicial Review?
    Could Councillors, Helen Whitehead, Pauline Farrance and Aram Rawf of Thanet District Council confirm this please?

  4. SONiK have been campaigning tirelessly to save the stroke service at QEQM and to defend the NHS from privatisation. Hats off to the brilliant activists and supporters who have been on the streets across East Kent in all weathers, and to the researchers who have worked for nearly 18 months to put a case against the STP decision. Kent needs more than 3 HASUs.

  5. In response to ‘Ramsgate Resident.’ {who is anonymous as the SONIK claimant btw!}.
    SONIK would have sought the advice from their team of doctors and nurses to ascertain if their claimant’s health would’ve been further compromised if her/his name was published. It is clear that publicity, especially troll like behaviour, would contribute to their already fragile health issues. SONIK would only want the best outcome for this person.

Comments are closed.