Health campaigners have declared they will fight “tooth and nail” the government decision which will mean the halving the number of emergency stroke units in Kent to create large hyper-acute units at three sites.
Save Our NHS In Kent (SONIK), which has been campaigning for years to save stroke units in east Kent, has called an emergency protest outside Margate’s QEQM hospital, Ramsgate Road entrance, for 11am tomorrow ( Saturday, November 6).
The protest follows the announcement yesterday that Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Sajid Javid, has given the go-ahead for the changes to stroke services across Kent and Medway.
The decision means three ‘hyper acute stroke units’ are to be established at Darent Valley Hospital, Maidstone Hospital and William Harvey Hospital – meaning the closure of acute services at Margate’s QEQM Hospital as well as at Medway Hospital, Tunbridge Wells Hospital, and Kent & Canterbury Hospital.
In April 2020, in response to Covid and the need to separate non-covid inpatients from covid inpatients, East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust transferred its stroke services at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital. The stroke service remains at Kent and Canterbury at this time.
Two Thanet groups, Save Our NHS in Kent and Thanet Stroke Campaign, took a case to the High Court – alongside Medway Council- to fight the decision made by a Joint Committee of Clinical Commissioning Groups’ (JCCCG) to remove acute services from six hospitals in favour of the three specialised units. A key part of SONIK’s case was that Kent needs at least four hyper acute stroke units (HASUs), and one must be in Thanet, to ensure that health inequalities are not exacerbated and all patients reach the care they need within approximately 35 minutes. However, these cases were rejected.
The referral to the Secretary of State for an independent review of the process was the last hope of campaigners but this has now been dashed.
Kent and Medway NHS say the units will give very specialist care to stroke patients in the immediate days after a stroke and are expected to save a life a fortnight compared to the previous configuration.
In February 2019 the NHS in Kent and Medway along with Bexley CCG and East Sussex CCG agreed to establish the new ‘hyper acute stroke units’ to replace the existing six general acute stroke units. The decision followed a 14-week public consultation.
The six existing stroke services were at Darent Valley Hospital (Dartford), Maidstone Hospital, Medway Hospital, Tunbridge Wells Hospital, Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (Thanet) and William Harvey Hospital (Ashford).
The location of the three new HASUs agreed by the CCGs will be: Darent Valley Hospital (Dartford), Maidstone Hospital and William Harvey Hospital (Ashford).
A spokesperson for SONIK said: “Everyone knows that surviving a stroke is critically dependent on how close you are to an emergency unit. The halving of our stroke units in Kent from six to just three is going to put people’s lives at risk. We have fought this appalling decision every step of the way and we will not give up now. We will fight it tooth and nail.”
SONIK urges a big popular campaign against the decision.
The spokesperson said: “We’ve had judicial reviews, petitions, debates. We’ve presented local NHS bosses with overwhelming evidence of the lethal dangers of this move. Our only recourse now is protest.
“People here must come together in numbers and force the government to changes their minds. We have seen them to do U-turns on other issues — we must make them do a U-turn on this, too. People’s lives depend on it.”
Kent and Medway NHS says it is now able to proceed with the implementation of the HASUs. The implementation is supported by a commitment from the NHS to deliver a business case for investment in comprehensive stroke rehabilitation and prevention services across Kent and Medway.
A letter issued by Kent and Medway NHS says the overwhelming evidence on hyper acute stroke units (HASUs) is that they reduce death and disability from stroke, even if people travel further to get to them.
It adds: “The independent report prepared for the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care makes abundantly clear that local doctors were right to decide to go from six general stroke units to three HASUs for Kent and Medway. The advice in the report is emphatic that the consultation and scrutiny process was robust and comprehensive.
“A Judicial Review brought against the stroke review process and consultation found entirely in favour of the NHS. The courts also refused requests to appeal the outcome of the Judicial Review.
“Going forward, we are committed to identifying solutions to help people visit their loved ones in hospital. This work has been on pause while we awaited the outcome from the Secretary of State but will begin again now we have the go-ahead to develop the HASUs.
There is no doubt in our mind that stroke patients are already getting better treatment and care than they were when our proposals were first put to the public in 2018 – and that this will only improve further once the HASUs are implemented.”