Ambulance service concerns stall stroke unit upgrade

James Duddridge, MP for Rochford and Southend East, outside Southend Hospital

James Duddridge, MP for Rochford and Southend East, outside Southend Hospital

First published in News Exclusive by

PLANS for a single super stroke unit in south Essex have stalled as GPs fear the ambulance service is not up to scratch.

Health experts have recommended most stroke victims in south Essex are sent to one “hyper-acute” stroke unit, manned by specialists round-the-clock, at Southend Hospital.

Talks between the GP groups in Basildon and Southend have flatlined as doctors fear ambulances could take too long to ferry patients across south Essex, the Echo can reveal.

Officials privately admit the much-trumpeted plan has been kicked into the long grass, with no schedule to restart discussions, but Rochford and Southend East MP, James Duddridge, has called for action.

The Conservative MP said: “It is clear there is a need to provide one hyper-acute stroke unit in south Essex that can provide 24- hour care and meet the everincreasing Government targets.

“The detail of how this is delivered should be left to the medical professionals.

“In my mind, the target we should be looking at is the time between the patient suffering the stroke and the needle administering the necessary medication – it is that process, end to end, that should be measured.”

Clinical commissioning groups in Southend, Basildon and Thurrock, groups of GPs with responsibility for their area’s healthcare, were on the brink of signing a deal early this year.

However, fears over the ambulance service’s readiness scuppered the talks and Basildon and Billericay CCG and Thurrock CCG invested £1million to bolster Basildon Hospital’s stroke unit in the meantime in March.

A spokeswoman for Basildon and Billericay CCG said: “As commissioners of health services for people living in Basildon and Brentwood our decisions must be based on ensuring quality services for our local population and we had a number of concerns with this proposal, not least that the ambulance service was unable to provide sufficient reassurance around its ability to handle the increase in patient journeys this move would generate.

“We saw this as a significant risk for patients suffering a stroke in south west Essex.”

Southend Clinical Commissioning has also been waylaid by Southend Hospital’s A&E crisis.

A spokeswoman said: “A critical enabling factor for the creation of a hyper-acute stroke unit is improving ambulance services – and this has been a key area of focus for us in recent months.

“While we are committed to the development of a a unit in the longer-term, the CCG’s focus at the moment is on addressing other, more urgent issues, in the local health and social care system, which include capacity and resilience of urgent care services.”

An ambulance service spokeswoman said: “Stroke care is one of our seven key clinical priorities in 2014/15.

“We are aiming to achieve continuous improvement in getting people who have suffered a timecritical stroke to a specialist centre within 60 minutes, as well as continue providing a high level of clinical care in order to give the patients the best chance of recovery.”

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “I know discussions are going on that very topic and the CCGs are very interested in putting a hyper-acute stroke service at Southend Hospital, which I know has excellent stroke services.

“We still need further improvements in the ambulance services for the east of England if we are going to do that, which is what we are currently discussing.”

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