A WATCHDOG has fired the latest broadside amid the continuing controversial plans to send emergency stroke victims to distant hospitals for their critical care.
The 12-week public consultation which closes at the end of the month is claimed to be a “done deal” by the many opponents to the scheme.
The consultation recommends consolidating specialist stroke services and includes creating two hyper-acute stroke units (HASU), to service the whole of West Surrey – based at Frimley Park Hospital and St Peter’s Hospital, Chertsey – both situated in the north-west corner of the county within just 11 miles of each other.
Now in a letter to Guildford and Waverley Clinical Commissioning Group chairman Dr David Eyre-Brook, who is overseeing the proposals, Haslemere Health Group chairman Ian Doolittle has labelled the plans “illogical and dangerous.”
The group was created by Haslemere Town Council to monitor healthcare in the South West Surrey area, and has strong links to Haslemere Hospital League of Friends. Chaired by its founder Mr Doolittle, a solicitor, it is made up of some 10 members, among them health professionals, businessmen, borough councillors and residents.
In its letter Haslemere Health Group (HHG) maintains the proposals present a “risk to patients” including the lack of critical and fast level of support they need and long journey times.
The latter – it maintains – is not helped by an ambulance service which has been placed in special measures by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, because of its service failings.
The letter also highlights the “illogical and inconvenient location” and the creation of two specialist stroke centres “within a few miles of one another in the north of the district. Mr Doolittle declared: “This is not beneficial to those in the south.”
Transport and “access difficulties” also pose a problem, not only putting patients at risk, but creating difficulties for their families, while access to the Royal Surrey County Hospital (RSCH) “is relatively easy”, said Mr Doolittle.
Other criticisms of the plans include the “failure to consult properly” which is considered by the heath group to be unsatisfactory, and the unacceptable claims to have RSCH and St Peter’s teams “effectively deciding between them” where the services should be located.
Plans for post-acute care, HHG claims, have also not been thought through and a lack of inadequate planning are all featured in the letter.
With the consultation period ending on Sunday, April 30, The Herald learned this week that in the latest twist in the saga, a secret meeting chaired by Health Secretary Mr Hunt, who is also the Haslemere MP, is set to take place between the key players in the scheme.
They will include the chief executive officer of South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), Dr Eyre-Brook, NHS representatives and Waverley Borough councillors – not one of whom is believed to represent Haslemere and its surrounding villages.
While he wouldn’t confirm a meeting had been arranged, a spokesman for Mr Hunt’s constituency office told The Herald he was “not in a position to discuss who is, or isn’t, attending the meeting.”
Speaking to The Herald this week, Mr Doolittle said the group recognised the problems faced by the CCG.
But he said: “It’s just that Haslemere is on the borders of three counties, out there in the corner of Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire and suffers badly from being betwixt and between.” And he added: “I think the CCG is getting things wrong, We are simply saying while we realise it would be easier to remove stroke services from the RSCH, the upshot of that is if you look on the map, in our view is not sensible to have two HASUs in the north-west corner of the county. The message I would like to get out through The Herald is, please, please could everybody fill in the consultation forms either online or by the printed format.
“Our quarrel is this consultation is pushing people to endorse this current plans and there is no straight forward question asking whether people they would like their stroke services delivered through the RSCH.
“We think that is unhelpful and unfair.”
And he asked the people of Haslemere and residents in surrounding villages: “Do you want to be taken to Frimley or to the RSCH given the critical time between having a stroke and being treated and relying on an ambulance service which is acknowledged to be performing badly.”
Mr Doolittle said: “We are asking them to think again, geographically what the HHG says seems to make a whole heap of sense and the current proposals are genuinely scary.”
In the meantime RSCH is set to hold a governors, members and public meeting in response to the consultation on the provision of stroke care.
The public meeting takes place on Wednesday April 19, at 6.30pm, in the Lecture Theatre, Postgraduate Education Centre, Royal Surrey County Hospital, Egerton Road, GU2 7XX. If you wish to attend email rsc-tr.membership@ nhs.net or call 01483 408837 to register a place, and to be issued with a car parking permit.
To respond to the consultation, visit guildford andwaverlyccg.nhs.uk.