Campaigners blast move to close Conquest stroke unit

Campaigners for Hands Off the Conquest and Save The DGH outside the Royal British Legion, Little Common.  Liz Walke, Stephen Lloyd MP, Cllr Mike Turner and Margaret Williams
Campaigners for Hands Off the Conquest and Save The DGH outside the Royal British Legion, Little Common. Liz Walke, Stephen Lloyd MP, Cllr Mike Turner and Margaret Williams

PATIENTS from Hastings who suffer a stroke will be forced to travel 20 miles for vital emergency treatment after NHS bosses opted to centralise stroke services at Eastbourne’s DGH.

Campaigners who fought against the controversial changes, which were rubber-stamped by NHS Sussex on Friday, fear people will die, saying the poor road infrastructure will prevent quick treatment.

Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “The health chiefs are not listening to the public. It was quoted in Friday’s meeting that all GPs in Hastings agreed with the proposals but that is not the case. This goes against the Government’s FAST campaign in spotting strokes quickly. I can’t believe all stroke victims will get to the unit within 45 minutes. You only have to have a road accident for the ambulance to get stuck on the way.”

Cllr Mike Turner blasted Friday’s decision.

He said: “How can you talk about a centre of excellence when all you are doing is relocating the unit? They are not employing any new consultants so this is an absolute nonsense.

“The most important thing in a stroke is being treated quickly. You lose 1.5 million brain cells a minute. It’s a biological fact so patients are going to suffer. The sooner they are seen and treated, the better their recovery. Hastings suffers the greatest inequality in all aspects of health, compared to the rest of the county and there is no way you can get to the DGH on time.”

Emergency general surgery and emergency orthopaedics will now be concentrated at the Conquest but Cllr Turner said patients from both Eastbourne and Hastings will lose out because of the move.

However, management at East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust (ESHT) is adamant the change in approach is being driven by a desire to improve the standard of care. Bosses said the shift towards pooling resources on a single site will actually be better for the one per cent of patients the changes are likely to affect.

Campaigners from both Hands off the Conquest and Save the DGH are still hopeful they can stop the plans, despite them having now been approved by both ESHT and NHS Sussex. They want to see the decision handed up the line to health ministers and want local people to back their campaign by signing a petition. Cllr Turner is also hoping to get a public meeting set up in Hastings.

A health overview and scrutiny committee will discuss the plans on December 13. Its members can decide to refer the decision to the health minister, as they did when the Conquest’s maternity department was threatened in 2007.

To sign the Hands off the Conquest petition go to www.handsofftheconquest.org.