By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
The NHS has been criticised for “losing the confidence” of Thanet residents over the planned closure of the district’s stroke unit.
Outraged Thanet councillors yesterday slammed a decision to overhaul stroke services in Kent, which would see the unit closed at Margate’s QEQM and open at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital in 2022.
Long-standing plans are in place to open three hyper acute stroke units (HASUs) in Ashford, Maidstone and Dartford after several judicial reviews heard at the High Court were rejected earlier this year.
Thanet District Council’s main opposition leader Lesley Game (Con), who is a member of KCC’s scrutiny committee, said: “There is disappointment throughout the whole of Thanet.
“I think, however hard the NHS and your team try, you will never get the confidence back from the people of Thanet.”
Her comments came during a virtual meeting of KCC’s health scrutiny committee where councillors were told that shortages of specialist staff in stroke units were causing widespread problems in Kent amid uncertainty around stroke service placements.
In Thanet, the fight continues in challenging a stroke unit review for Kent and Medway despite defeats at court.
Due to Covid, stroke services at Margate’s QEQM and Ashford’s William Harvey have been temporarily transferred to Canterbury to “protect” most vulnerable patients contracting coronavirus in these hospitals.
Supporters say the new stroke units will “improve health care” while opponents say that delays to treatment could be “life-threatening” for those in Thanet travelling around 35 miles to Ashford.
Ramsgate county councillor Karen Constantine (Lab) said: “The concerns for potential life-threatening delays from Thanet across to Ashford still remain. There is little confidence amongst the general community.
“People cannot believe this is being done to them when there is such an outcry.”
She added: “With the prospect of Brexit and what that might do to our roads and now Covid, none of this is comfort for us.
“There has to be an explanation and plan that goes back to the people of Thanet that clears up the concerns they have.”
Rachel Jones, who is Kent and Medway CCG’s director of acute services and partnerships, said she “understands” the anxieties of people in Thanet.
She said: “We are going to have to work hand in hand with the communities most worried.
“Because no matter what I say to you about all the evidence, the data, the journey times and implementations in other parts of the country that show that we save lives not lose them, even with longer journey times, people are not going to accept that and I understand why they wouldn’t. All I can say is I think it will, but the proof will be in the delivery.”
She proposed to work with East Kent residents and campaigners such as Save Our NHS in Kent and Thanet Stroke Campaign on a “daily” basis.
On the decision, Ashford county councillor Paul Bartlett (Con) said that “we need to move on” as discussions have been taking place around HASUs since 2014.
KCC’s health scrutiny chairman said: “Our failure to implement HASUs becomes a dereliction of duty.”
However, he has requested a report be published to councillors on how the NHS will “rebuild trust” with residents in Thanet at a future public meeting.
A final decision will be made by the Health Secretary Matt Hancock following a referral.