Published: 20:07, 14 February 2019
| Updated: 20:21, 14 February 2019
Plans to open three specialist stroke units in Kent have been agreed by health officials.
The joint committee of clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) unanimously approved the proposal to locate the hyper acute stroke units (HASUs) at hospitals in Ashford, Dartford and Maidstone this evening.
Members said the changes would reduce the number of deaths and long-term issues caused by strokes in the county, as well as ensuring a better experience for patients and staff.
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Stroke review senior officer Rachel Jones said: “There will be a higher quality, more consistent care in hospitals for urgent stroke services with the development of hyper acute and acute units.
“There will also be greater access to staff and equipment, as well as quicker treatment times.
"We recognise some patients will have to travel further for the urgent aspects of their stroke care, with a maximum journey time of 63 minutes.
"However, consolidating hospital stroke services will save lives and reduce disability.”
The HASUs at the Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford and Maidstone Hospital will have 34 and and 38 beds respectively, with both departments set to be open to patients in 2020.
Meanwhile, the 52 beds at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital will be ready from spring 2021.
Stroke care will not be provided at the Medway Maritime Hospital, Tunbridge Wells Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital in Margate, and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital once the HASUs are formed.
Senior stroke consultant David Hargroves added: “We already currently have an excellent stroke unit in Margate and a fine team of multi-disciplinary staff working as hard as they possibly can.
“The reality though is despite that expertise the process markers in Margate at the moment are some of the worst in the country.
"The outcomes for patients are not as good as they could be, and they will be in the future model.”
Ian Ayres, NHS West Kent CCG managing director also claimed the loss of stroke services at some hospitals would not “destabalise” any other “core services” provided.
Meanwhile, Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership chief executive Glenn Douglas said it was important to make a decision, responding to questions about the prospect of a new hospital in Canterbury.
He added: “The NHS runs in mysterious ways sometimes, and often we avoid making decisions because of differing changes and consequences of change.
“If a decision is for a new hospital in Canterbury, it will take a long time to actually build and develop.
"We owe it to our stroke patients now to get this sorted out as quickly as is practicable.”
However, the decision was made behind closed doors following a number of interventions from campaigners in the audience.
Members of the public demanded that questions submitted before the meeting were answered, while comments made by Rachel Jones were audibly questioned.
Objections mainly revolve around the favoured option making the 24/7 units – which would treat patients in the first 72 hours after a stroke – difficult to access for high-risk communities in Thanet and Medway.
Asked if she was concerned about the meeting being conducted privately, campaigner Carly Jeffrey said: “People were asking to speak, councillors are standing up asking for people to be able to speak.
"It’s probably quite pre-decided. We would, of course, like to have seen the vote but I think ultimately it doesn’t change the outcome.
"We’ll know what the vote is later on."
The behind-closed-doors meeting ended with a round of applause among members.
Medway Council has already set aside £50,000 for a possible judicial review against any decision which sees the Towns miss out on a specialist stroke unit.
More by this authorDean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter