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Medway councillors refer stroke decision to secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock

By Dean Kilpatrick, local democracy reporter

Councillors in Medway have formally agreed to refer the decision to locate three new specialist stroke units outside the Towns to the secretary of state for an independent review.

There has been anger since local NHS commissioning groups unanimously supported the creation of hyper acute stroke units (HASUs) at hospitals in Ashford, Dartford and Maidstone (Option B) last month.

During what was a heated meeting at times last night (March 12), concerns were expressed about the impact the decision will have on residents, insufficient bed capacity, and the selection process itself.

The proposal to change the stroke services has been fiercely opposed from the start
The proposal to change the stroke services has been fiercely opposed from the start

Cllr Dan McDonald (Lab) said: “We’re all here because we’re interested in the health of our residents and we want what’s best for Medway residents, as you all do (health officials) with Kent as well.

“All of us want to save lives, so I don’t want people to think we’re doing this for fun just to hold up the system. We’re doing it because we feel there were inconsistencies in the consultation, and we don’t feel the decision is correct.

“I don’t want people to think we’re being NIMBYs making a decision which could cost lives, because all of us want a service that will help our residents.”

Stroke review senior officer Rachel Jones faced a grilling from the overview and scrutiny committee members, who continued to press the case for the HASUs to be based at Tunbridge Wells, Medway and Ashford (Option D).

"We’re interested in the health of our residents and we want what’s best for Medway residents..." Cllr Dan McDonald

Asked if the review team were open to reconsider the decision, she said: “No, we’re not. The reason for that is because Option D was not the preferred option from the process we undertook.

“We need a rationale and a reason and a clear audit trail as to why we go back and look at the process. We’re not just able to go back and work up another option without a rationale and a reason.”

Medway Pensioners Forum representative Shirley Griffiths also raised issues about the ability for Medway residents to access the HASU at Ashford, describing the travel time as “three or four hours” on public transport.

Members were told Medway Maritime Hospital served those who live in “relative deprivation”, meaning residents are at a higher risk of having a stroke.

But Ms Jones responded: “As you know, we’ve got the worst-rated stroke units in the country – Medway and Thanet are the two worst units in the country, through absolutely no fault of the staff.

The decision will be reviewed by the secretary of state for heatlh, Matt Hancock
The decision will be reviewed by the secretary of state for heatlh, Matt Hancock

“We are trying to run too many units with too few staff and we’re all struggling. Therefore all patients in Kent and Medway who use these HASUs will get an improvement in their outcomes.”

Medway appeared in three of the five proposed options for HASU locations, while the highest number of responses to the public consultation came from the Towns.

Cllr David Wildey (Con) added: “I went to the evaluation meeting and there was one sentence about the consultation as they had worked out the mean average (of responses).

“So it was meaningless – which wasn’t a word they used – but there was one sentence and it was disregarded, and never mentioned again at the evaluation process.”

“We are trying to run too many units with too few staff and we’re all struggling..." Rachel Jones

The scrutiny committee supported referring the decision to secretary of state for health and social care Matt Hancock (Con) for review.

Rachel Jones later suggested any delay “will inevitably lead to more deaths”.

Concluding at the end of the meeting, Cllr Wendy Purdy (Con) said: “We are not just thinking about the people of Medway – Option D would have served the wider community in a better way.

“Our decision isn’t just to serve Medway, but to serve the wider community because that is what Option D will do.”

For more health related stories, click here.

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