NHS health chiefs came under fire repeatedly at a public meeting in Haslemere on Tuesday night concerning plans to remove stroke services from the Royal Surrey County Hospital.
Under Guildford and Waverley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) proposals out to public consultation, emergency stroke victims will be taken by ambulance to a hyper acute stroke unit (HASU) at Frimley Park for specialist care, followed by a transfer to Farnham Community Hospital for rehabilitation.
The choice of either Ashford, Woking or Milford community hospitals has gone out to consultation as “possible options” to provide rehabilitation as well as at Farnham.
The CCG hosted Tuesday’s meeting in Haslemere Hall, and provided a team of six medical experts, three from Frimley Park, and two South East Coast Ambulance (SECAmb) representatives, to take questions.
Concerned Haslemere residents have protested stroke victims’ lives will be put at risk due to the longer journey time to Frimley and the slow response times by SECAmb, which has been placed in special measures by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt because of its service failings.
Following the loss of one of two stroke consultants at the Royal Surrey, emergency stroke victims have been taken to Frimley since January as an “interim measure,” according to Waverley CCG.
Those objecting to making the switch permanent have protested it is already a “done deal”, despite the consultation, which runs until Sunday, April 30.
A barrage of objections from borough and town councillors and residents followed a short presentation by CCG chairman Dr David Eyre-Brook, when he said there was a vital “two-hour window” for emergency cases to get to hospital.
Objectors repeatedly queried why the CCG proposed locating the HASU at Frimley Park – and not at Guildford – particularly as the only other HASU it provides will be at Ashford, which is only 10 miles away from Frimley.
They protested it left residents of Haslemere, Liphook and a large swathe of Waverley in danger of not being treated within the critical two-hour timeframe.
Fears SECAmb, which is commissioned by the CCG, would not be able to step up and improve its slow response times, were also repeatedly raised.
There were cheers, when Haslemere’s borough councillor Robert Knowles asked: “Why was a more central hospital not chosen? The response times by SECAmb for Haslemere are appalling.
“You are talking 45 minutes before they even come and then they get stuck in traffic.”
Responding, SECamb representatives said: “The regime is incredibly challenged and this is one of the more rural areas.
“We have got an improvement plan agreed with the Care Quality Commission and the NHS to improve efficiency. We face recruitment problems in Surrey, where there are high living costs.”
Dr Eyre-Brook said: “We can’t have more HASUs in Surrey. The Royal Surrey is a massive regional cancer centre. It specialises in different things. When hospitals specialise there are better outcomes. Quality of service trumps.”
The meeting was told there were not enough specialist staff in Surrey for the NHS to offer more HASUs and putting a team in one hospital with a seven-day service was the better care option.
Haslemere Mayor Sharan Abeysundara was clapped when he said: “I’m concerned the decision has been made and you are just informing us. You assume everyone in Haslemere is rich enough to have a car.
“If you don’t, the time it takes to get there on public transport is ridiculous. Why put two HASUs at the top of Surrey and leave a massive hole at the bottom.
“We have just heard from SECAmb and they acknowledge the problems. I think this move is premature and you should fix the ambulance problems first.”
Responding, Dr Eyre-Brook said he was confident SECAmb would be delivering a better service by October.
Deputy Mayor Malcolm Carter said there was “no way to get back from Frimley at midnight” for partners who travelled with stroke victims from Haslemere by ambulance.
“When will the next brick be taken out of the Royal Surrey?” he asked.
“This is not acceptable to Haslemere. The care of the whole family should be taken into account.”
Mr Carter was told Frimly Park would look at how to help already concerned family members, who were stranded at the hospital at night.
Rosemary Young, whose mother had a stroke and was treated in Guildford and received rehabilitation at Milford, was clapped when she said: “If my mum had had to go to Frimley, she wouldn’t have made it.
“My mum needed me and I couldn’t have gone to Frimley and been there for most of the days she was in hospital. We do need Guildford and Milford to stay open. It’s very important Guildford has a stroke unit too.”
When asked to respond to concerns about the stroke proposals, Health secretary Jeremy Hunt, the South West Surrey MP, said: “Evidence has shown larger specialised stroke units can save lives and reduce disability following a stroke. Although for some people it will take longer to get to hospital, travelling directly to a specialist centre means quicker access overall to life saving treatment. However understandably many people are worried so I have invited Tony Rudd, Head of NHS England Stroke Services to come to the constituency next month to explain how the plans will work.”
LEFT: Cllr Knowles