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Seeing Red: Stroke referral failure

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on June 3 2019.

The stroke service review outcome is a bitter pill for us all to swallow.

I have gleaned from previous experience at Kent County Council that things are not always as they seem. We had a monumental unanimous vote, March 1, where the Health Overview Scrutiny Community, voted to allow the NHS extra time, before acting to refer the decision back to the Secretary of State to respond to the grave concerns we raised. In fact had been raising for many, many months. We had hoped for improvements to the plan and frankly that our communities deeply held fears would be heeded.

That unanimous vote should have given us comfort. It was as if all of Kent’s councillors on that committee had fully heard and understand the worry and insecurity that losing the QEQM stroke unit to Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital had caused the residents of Thanet.

However this delay, created by allowing the NHS more time, coincided with purdah and district council elections. Which in turn meant that the HOSC would meet again only after the deadline for any possible Judicial Review has passed.  A JR must be launched within 3 months of the final decision.

This meant, at the request of literally hundreds of residents I have launched a JR. Not an easy process. Thanet’s Community came up trumps raising £5k in five days.

A Judicial Review has duly been submitted, the client is a wonderful women Marion Keppel who knows first hand how vital our local stroke service is. I couldn’t be more personally grateful to her.

On May 21 Marion, Jenny Matterface ex Labour Group leader and myself attended the HOSC together. We wanted to secure a reference back to the Secretary of State.

What a chronic disappointment that meeting was. Councillors Lesley Game and Roz Binks (both Conservative ) and myself asked searching questions, and we ultimately voted to refer this dreadful decision back to the Secretary of State. After all the months of battling, raising awareness, fighting, lobbying, organising public meetings, street stalls, petitions and countless meetings. Our countless hours of effort had come to naught. The vote went against us 7 to 6.

Residents of Thanet have been done a great disservice. QEQM should have been properly considered as a location for a HASU. We were told that there weren’t enough stroke cases in Thanet to meet the ‘competency threshold’ for any stroke consultant. It is necessary for a consultation to see a minimum number of 500 per year. The information that I have pushed for and have received recently scotch’s this.

Stroke rates in East Kent per annum

Thanet 260

Sandwich 23

Deal 61

Herne Bay 135

Blean 12

Wingham 10

Aylesham 15

Canterbury and villages 82

Faversham 44

Total 642

So, as you can see, there are, sadly plenty of strokes. The geographical configuration and location of HASUs could have been drawn up to be fairer to Thanet residents, to better address Thanet’s substantial health inequalities, to support QEQM as an anchor institution (that helps to boost our area economically). I do not think the staff shortages have been adequately addressed. For instance the mission critical workforce shortages, 11,500 GPs, 10,000 paramedics and 42,000 nurses cannot and will not be solved in any local plan. But this must be addressed by central government. And urgently.

I am extremely dissatisfied and disappointed with this decision, I am seeing red.

This article was first published on 3rd June 2019 in The Isle of Thanet News.