Doctor defends downgrade at DGH

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A LEADING health professional has defended the controversial decision to downgrade vital heart services at the DGH – claiming the shift in approach will actually benefit local patients.

The Herald revealed last week that NHS Sussex has decided that from next April, specialist treatments for certain types of heart attacks (STEMIs) will no longer be available after 5pm here in Eastbourne.

Instead patients will face a trek to either Hastings or Brighton – or in more extreme cases Portsmouth or Ashford – a fact which has caused widespread criticism from both local health campaigners and the town’s MP.

However, Dr Andrew Foulkes - the joint medical director at NHS Sussex - has hit back at accusations the stripping away of service at the DGH will endanger patients’ lives.

He said, “If you have a STEMI heart attack there is a better chance you will survive if you receive treatment at a specialist 24/7 centre.

“The creation of a 24/7 centre will benefit East Sussex residents. Rather than being a ‘downgrade’, as was reported, the changes will ensure patients receive the very best emergency treatment in a way that is already normal practice in much of the country, including Kent and Surrey.

“The local ambulance service is very clear that it is safer for people to travel further to reach a specialist centre, whatever time of day or night.

“Ambulances in Sussex are now better equipped to communicate with hospitals from the moment they are on the scene, sending in ECG readings and receiving advice on where to take the patient. If patients are unstable in any way they will be taken to the nearest A&E where they can be stabilised prior to transfer.

“The pPCI service (the area which will soon no longer operate past 5pm from the DGH) currently alternates weekly between Eastbourne and Hastings. Running the service from one site would allow for better outcomes for patients.

“Overwhelming national evidence shows a pPCI service needs to be carried out in centres with a sufficiently high number of patients.

“For the best chance of survival patients need to receive pPCI within 150 minutes of experiencing a STEMI heart attack.

“In Sussex, the plan is for pPCI to be delivered within 120 minutes.”

However, it was not a sentiment shared by the majority of readers who reacted to last week’s story.

Philip Levy was one of a host of former heart patients who contacted the Herald.

He said, “Obviously the people that make the decisions on this have never had need of the 24/7 service, unlike myself and many other local people.

“For the record, my heart attack started after 7pm one night and because the coronary care unit was there for me, my life was spared.

“The primary care trust should be renamed the primary DON’T care trust, and leave the essential running of units such as these to people who value life.

“Medical problems do not occur by the clock. I hope that all of Eastbourne gets together and local MPs get this decision overturned.”

And another reader, John Wilkinson, said, “The decision to reduce the 24-hour service to office hours within the cardiac unit at our local hospital is one of indescribable lunacy.

“I suppose their answer will be that mobile paramedics carry the essential life-saving equipment aboard their ambulances. Give us both options, please - paramedics and the excellent facilities of Eastbourne’s DGH, 24 hours.”

What do you think about the decision? Perhaps you have received STEMI specific treatment? Write to us at the usual address or email us your comments to eastbourne.herald@trbeckett.co.uk.