SOUTHEND could become a major hub providing specialist treatment for stroke patients under new proposals.

The town’s hospital, already with a first class stroke unit, is recommended as one of three future hyper-acute stroke units for Essex.

The others would be Colchester and Chelmsford. All five hospitals in Essex including Basildon would continue to have an acute stroke unit but would effectively be downgraded.

Hyper-acute stroke units in the three hospitals would give all patients in Essex immediate access to top stroke specialists 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

The hyper-acute units would provide critical care for patients in the first three crucial days of having a stroke.

After that, patients would return to their nearest stroke unit, if they needed further specialist care, or they would return home with a full rehabilitation programme.

Southend is already providing this enhanced service and has received widespread and national recognition.

Its stroke unit was been named the best in the East of England and the Midlands last year for its swift and effective treatment of patients in danger of having a potentially fatal stroke.

The figures, released by the Royal College of Physicians and the Vascular Society, named Southend as one of the best for carrying out operations to clear patients’ carotid arteries to ensure their condition does not deteriorate.

It also acheived an 88 per cent success rate of carrying out the surgery within 14 days of the patient first experiencing symptoms. The national average was just 48 per cent.

Jacqueline Totterdell, Southend Hospital chief executive said: “We are delighted that our award winning stroke service has been recognised as a preferred option to become a hyper acute stroke service as part of the on-going review into the provision of stroke services across Essex and the East of England.

“We will work with our colleagues in the clinical commissioning groups and patient and carers across the local area over the coming months to ensure that our excellent service meets their needs and continues to deliver high quality critical care when it is needed the most.”

Clare Panniker, Chief Executive of Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said: “While we are disappointed in this initial proposal, we recognise further work is required to determine the final recommendations of where hyper acute units will be located. This will require public consultation.

"We will continue to provide a hyper acute service at Basildon during this time, and will work closely will commissioners to ensure that any changes in arrangement will not disadvantage Basildon patients.”

Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), set to lead the NHS from April 1, are considering their recommendations to enhance stroke services in the county which the Midlands and East Strategic Health Authority cluster board will consider in March.

The public would be consulted on the plans later in the year.

Pam Green, Lead Commissioner for stroke services on behalf of the seven Essex CCGs, said: “We still have some work to do before we know exactly how the proposed enhancements would work best. We are looking at all stroke services from a prevention approach right through to rehabilitation and recovery at home or in the community.

“Listening to the views of patients and carers is enormously important in order to get this right.”

Dr Tony Rudd, Professor of Stroke Medicine at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, led a detailed review of the potential options for Essex.

He said: “After a thorough analysis of all the options, the panel came to the view that three hyper-acute stroke units was the right balance for Essex between accessibility for patients and the available specialist clinical expertise.”

If agreed public consultation would take place between May and the autumn with it to come into force by the end of 2015.