Published: 12:29, 14 May 2019
| Updated: 11:15, 15 May 2019
A legal fight to stop the closure of one of Kent's six stroke units has been launched in the High Court today.
Marion Keppel, from Ramsgate, is spearheading the challenge with lawyers filing a judicial review against the NHS decision to close the service at the Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital in Margate.
The unit in Thanet is one of three set to be shut by health chiefs in a £40 million reshuffle with three 'hyper acute stroke units' in Ashford, Dartford and Maidstone.
Mrs Keppel says the decision will have a "devastating effect" for patients like herself, who are at risk of suffering a stroke, because they will have to travel more than 40 miles for treatment to the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
She has also experienced first-hand the impact of a loved one suffering a stroke after her late husband, Robert, was rushed to the QEQM in 2016 and believes the proximity of the unit to her home helped prevent damage to his brain.
"Doctors said to me at the time that if Robert had attended a hospital further away, it would have resulted in damage to his brain," Mrs Keppel said.
"Having a vital support service located an hour away is simply unacceptable and I hope this decision is reconsidered as soon as possible."
She currently lives just 10 minutes away from the QEQM and attends there for most of her medical appointments.
'I have no doubt that the decision to close the acute stroke unit at QEQM will have a devastating effect on myself if I suffer from a stroke,' Marion Keppel
"Due to my complex health needs and status as someone at a high risk of suffering a stroke, I attend hospital regularly," Mrs Keppel added.
"I am diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes and struggle to travel outside of my immediate environment and am known to collapse when I am anxious.
"If the decision goes ahead to close the stroke unit, I – and other local people – will have to travel around 40 miles to the next nearest facility at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
"This will take several hours of travelling on public transport, which I find very difficult. I will also need the help of a friend or my son to support me in the journey.
"I have no doubt that the decision to close the acute stroke unit at QEQM will have a devastating effect on myself if I suffer from a stroke, and the local community in Thanet as a whole."
But the NHS says its move will provide expert care for patients who suffer a stroke.
Rachel Jones, director of the Kent and Medway Stroke Reviews, says the existing do not provide the consistent standard of care required.
She added: "The evidence is that what saves lives and reduces disability is people getting expert care, treatment and monitoring in a specialist centre providing 24/7 care in the vital few days after their stroke, even if they travel further to get there."
Lawyers submitted papers on Mrs Keppel's behalf to the courts today questioning the legality of the decision and calling on the NHS to rethink its strategy.
Alex Rook, a specialist public lawyer at London-based law firm Irwin Mitchell, is representing Mrs Keppel in the review and has accused the joint CCGs in Kent of failing to "properly consider the impact of travel times".
He said: "There has also been a great deal of concern that by the time a public consultation was undertaken, the QEQM was not an option that people could put forward as their preferred outcome, giving the impression that the decision had already been taken.
"Our client feels that she has no option but to seek to challenge the lawfulness of this decision. We call on the joint CCG’s to rethink its proposals and carry out a thorough consultation with residents to find a suitable solution."
The review has been funded through public donations after the Thanet Stroke Campaign (TSC) group raised £5,000 through a crowdfunding bid and will now be considered by a High Court judge to decide whether to accept the application to be heard in full.
It is one of three launched by groups in Kent along with fellow Thanet-based group Sonik (Save Our NHS in Kent) and Medway Council.
County councillor for Ramsgate and TSC member, Cllr Karen Constantine, says today's challenge is a "huge moment" for campaigners.
"We hope the three applications will be looked at in their totality that include the number of concerns from all quarters about this decision.
"I think people were frightened by this decision. It's shaken the whole community and the decision has been flawed.
"Marion has been incredibly brave and I've got full confidence in her and the lawyers to do a really good job for the people of Thanet.
"It's the start of a process. I would like to thank people supporting TSC and donating to the crowdfunding. Without them we'd never have been able to get this far."
Cllr Constantine will be calling on the NHS to refer the decision to the health secretary at the next Kent County Council health overview and scrutiny committee next Wednesday (May 21).
"The CCG must not be spending any money or taking decisions that are irrevocable," she added.