Health campaigners in Kent have declared they will fight “tooth and nail” the government decision to endorse a reconfiguration which will mean halving the number of stroke units in Kent – and lengthening journey times and delays in treatment.

Campaign group Save Our NHS In Kent (SONIK), which has been campaigning for years to save stroke units in east Kent called an emergency protest outside Margate’s QEQM hospital on November 6.

The three remaining specialist stroke centres will eventually be in Dartford, Maidstone and Ashford – with units at Margate, Medway and Canterbury closing, leaving much of East Kent with 60 minute journeys to a Hyper Acute Stroke Unit (HASU) – assuming the ambulance services can deliver even that much.

Larger areas would face 45 minute journeys to a HASU – far higher than the 30 minute maximum journey for all patients that was specified when stroke services were centralised in London ten years ago, when ambulance services were under less pressure.

However stroke services in Kent are currently in disarray with no HASU yet established in the county. Staffing shortages have led to the “temporary” closure of stroke units at Tunbridge Wells Hospital and Medway Hospital during the pandemic, leaving services for East Kent concentrated in Canterbury.

Even with the go-ahead now is estimated it will take until at least 2024 before the new replacement unit can be operational at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.

Meanwhile ambulance response times in Kent (and across the country) have worsened dramatically since the initial plan for the service redesign was submitted for ministerial approval over two years ago, questioning the viability of the proposed 2-hour maximum “call to needle” time.

A spokesperson for SONIK said: “Everyone knows that surviving a stroke is critically dependent on how close you are to an emergency unit. The halving of our stroke units in Kent from six to just three is going to put people’s lives at risk. We have fought this appalling decision every step of the way and we will not give up now. We will fight it tooth and nail.”

“We’ve had judicial reviews, petitions, debates. We’ve presented local NHS bosses with overwhelming evidence of the lethal dangers of this move. Our only recourse now is protest.”


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