There was an outcry in Haslemere and surrounding areas when a formal consultation was launched that recommended consolidating specialist stroke services and creating two hyper-acute stroke units (HASU), to service West Surrey and beyond, 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.
Haslemere Health Group fired off a letter to Guildford and Waverley Clinical Commissioning Group(CCG) chairman Dr David Eyre-Brook, who is overseeing the proposals, which labelled the plans “illogical and dangerous” and maintained they presented a “risk to patients” due to the long journey times.
At the West Surrey Stroke System Committees in Common meeting last Thursday, it was agreed a hyperacute stroke unit (HASU) would be located at Frimley Park Hospital, from October 1, and networked with an acute stroke unit and specialist bedded stroke rehabilitation at the Royal Surrey in Guildford.
Responding to concerns South East Coast Ambulance Service (SECAmb), which has been placed in special measures due to service failings, would not be able to get stroke emergencies from Haslemere and surrounding areas to Frimley in time, the committee said it recognised SECAmb’s commitment to “support delivery of the model of care”.
Guildford and Waverley CCG and North West Surrey CCGT said they had received “a wealth of feedback” during the formal 12-week public consultation and to ensure a considered response, an independent consultation report was commissioned and shared with the committees in common to assist it in making its decisions regarding the future model of stroke care in West Surrey.
Responding to the decisions, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the town’s MP, said: “I know a lot of work went into this decision and many residents will be reassured stroke after care will continue at Royal Surrey.
“The clinical evidence is overwhelming that concentrating initial stroke care in a smaller number of hyper acute units saves lives so I have every confidence Frimley will deliver the best possible outcomes. However there are still issues to be resolved about ambulance response times in Haslemere and I will continue to press SECAmb to make the improvements we all know are urgently needed.”
An RSCH spokesman said: “The two CCGs recommended the consolidation of specialist stroke services at two sites: Frimley Park and St Peter’s, with the removal of specialist stroke care from Royal Surrey. The trust sent a formal response to the consultation outlining that we understood the reasoning for the proposed plans, while raising concerns around travel time, particularly for people in our local catchment area.
“We also stated we would like to continue to run an ASU in Guildford. This will allow the trust to continue to support the rehabilitation and treatment of patients affected by stroke, bringing them closer to home, once initial treatment is completed at Frimley Park, which will we be networked with the ASU at RSCH.
“The evidence from other areas is the most important factor for stroke survival and improved outcomes is getting to a specialist HASU within three hours. The provision of this with the appropriately skilled people 24-hours-a-day seven days a week is the key.
“Ongoing local care for patients who have had a stroke is important and with the CCGs decision to have Royal Surrey continue as an ASU, this will support people with their ongoing care needs following a stroke.”
A last-ditch appeal to the Tory MP to retain emergency stroke care at the RSCH, was made a few weeks ago in an open letter signed by Haslemere Mayor Malcolm Carter, borough councillor Robert Knowles, Haslemere Hospital League of Friends chairman Rose Parry and Haslemere Health Group chairman Ian Doolitte.
They stated the response to the consultation on the plan had made it very clear residents wanted one of the HASUs to be in the RSCH, and it was “essential” the HASU was as close as possible in order to minimise journey times, which are critical for stroke patients.
Mr Carter said the Frimley relocation, despite being one of the most inaccessible places from Haslemere, was a “done deal” but said there had at least been some “listening” and he was relieved the RSCH would become an ASU.
“But I am still not satisfied the CCGs have answered how families get to Frimley and Chertsey,” he said. “I am informed immediate ‘after care’ is key to a full recovery and I for one would want to see my family frequently.”
Mr Doolittle said: “The link between Guildford and Frimley is better than nothing. But creating two specialist units within a few minutes of one another makes no sense.
“It simply ratifies a quiet ’deal’ done well before public consultation. We will continue to press the case for a full Guildford service.
“And we remain doubtful whether the ambulance service will be able to achieve its promised improvements, on which everything depends.
“We will monitor response times carefully and welcome feedback from residents on their experiences.”
Mr Knowles said: “This is no surprise, the decision was made last year and once again proves the south of Surrey is still neglected by the NHS. There is no justification for two HASUs in north west Surrey.
He refused to be placated by the pledge on 999 response times, adding: “SECAmb’s commitment is meaningless. We’ve all heard empty promises before.”