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Campaigners claim they have been 'duped' over Margate stroke unit closure after patient numbers for QEQM revealed

More patients are being treated at Margate's soon-to-be axed stroke unit than at the Ashford hospital earmarked for one of just three specialist facilities in Kent, new figures reveal.

Emergency stroke treatment at the town's QEQM Hospital will end when a new hyper acute stroke unit (HASU) opens at the William Harvey in the spring of 2021.

Protest to save QEQM's Stroke service
Protest to save QEQM's Stroke service

The location of the county's three HASUs was determined in-part by patient numbers, with NHS bosses saying hospitals would have to treat a minimum of 500 to be considered.

But campaigners in Thanet say they have been duped, as latest figures reveal there were 608 stroke patients treated at the QEQM in 2018/19 - 24 more than at the William Harvey.

And from April to September this year, 328 patients were seen at the QEQM, compared to 316 in Ashford.

Jon Flaig is chair of campaign group Save Our NHS in Kent (Sonik), which obtained the statistics through the Freedom of Information Act.

"Anyone who attended the stroke 'listening events' will have heard senior NHS figures insisting that four hyper-acute stroke units in the county could not be supported due to a requirement for 500 strokes at least per unit," he said.

Jon Flaig of SONIK
Jon Flaig of SONIK

"They said that because Margate hospital had less than 500 per year, it wasn't reasonable to have a HASU in Thanet.

"At the point in time when they were arguing that QEQM's stroke admissions were too low, they were actually high enough to warrant a HASU at both the William Harvey and the QEQM.

“Critically, the information provided by NHS bosses for the public consultation was based on figures compiled prior to the closure of the Kent & Canterbury stroke unit and so did not take into the account the inevitable rise in stroke victims being treated in Margate after Canterbury closed in 2017."

But NHS bosses insist the number of stroke patients is just one of many reasons the QEQM was not selected in what they say was a meticulous process, involving many medical experts and doctors, to improve stroke services.

Emma Burns, spokesman for the Kent and Medway review of urgent stroke services, says they undertook a rigorous evaluation of all the possible combinations of sites for HASUs.

Protest against reducing health and hospital services at the QEQM hosted by Sonik
Protest against reducing health and hospital services at the QEQM hosted by Sonik

"In June 2017 the Kent and Canterbury Hospital stopped receiving emergency patients with a suspected stroke," she said.

"Since then, patients who would have gone to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital have been treated at either QEQM Hospital or William Harvey Hospital.

"This has led to an increase in the number of stroke patients admitted at both QEQM and William Harvey hospitals but it has not changed the overall number of stroke admissions in east Kent or across the county.

"The Kent and Medway stroke review undertook a rigorous evaluation of all the possible combinations of sites for new hyper acute stroke units in Kent and Medway.

"QEQM made it through to the medium list of 13 options but not the shortlist of five because of a combination of factors.

Protest against reducing health and hospital services at the QEQM hosted by Sonik
Protest against reducing health and hospital services at the QEQM hosted by Sonik

"These included the fact that QEQM has fewer of the specialised services it is desirable to have alongside a HASU than other hospitals and the challenge of recruiting enough specialist stroke staff to run two HASUs in east Kent. These factors have not changed.

"There is clinical evidence that patient care improves with the volume of patients treated in a HASU.

"It is increasingly accepted that the previous minimum number of 500 confirmed strokes a year is too low and a HASU should consistently treat a minimum of 600 confirmed strokes."

Services at Margate are expected to shut when the William Harvey's hyper-acute unit opens in spring 2021.

The other HASUs will open at Darent Valley in Dartford and at Maidstone General Hospital.

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