Heart unit hit by downgrade

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VITAL round-the-clock emergency treatment for heart attack victims is being stripped from the DGH – leaving many patients with a hike to Brighton or Hastings.

The coronary care unit, which treats some emergency heart attack patients, will from April only see people between 8am and 5pm, meaning any locals needing interventionary help will have to travel more than half-an-hour in either direction to be seen.

The majority of displaced patients are expected to shift to the 24-hour cardiology services in Brighton and there will also be a 24-hour service at the Conquest in Hastings by the time the changes hit home.

The downgrading of the percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) care – considered the best way of treating STEMI heart attacks in around 80 per cent of cases – only came to light this week when a senior figure in the local health service leaked the news to Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd.

The decision even came as a surprise to staff at the East Sussex Hospitals Trust which runs the DGH – particularly as the hospital has not long ago invested in additional equipment for the unit.

The decision itself was not made by the DGH itself, but by the Primary Care Trust, which commissions services to the DGH.

Mr Lloyd told the Herald, “This is a completely bewildering decision. It simply does not make sense.

“We have more cardiologists at the DGH, Eastbourne has the largest population in East Sussex and I am reliably informed cardiologists at the Conquest agree with their colleagues at the DGH that emergency interventions for heart attacks must be dual sited.

“I would also say, considering the high quality performance and excellent results the DGH has managed over the last few years around cardiac arrests, single siting it away from Eastbourne is clearly an irrational move. This begs the question – why?”

Madeleine Mayhew, a spokesman for NHS Sussex, confirmed the changes and said, “The NHS in Sussex wants any Sussex resident who has a heart attack to have the best possible outcome. Therefore NHS Sussex is working with providers of cardiology services and the ambulance service to implement national best practice guidelines for heart attack patients.”

And, in a move unlikely to placate worried health campaigners, she added, “Sussex residents will also have access 24/7 to centres at Portsmouth, Ashford and Frimley”, arguing this long distance availability ‘will ensure that if you are having a heart attack at home, whatever time of day or night, the ambulance service will take you to a 24/7 site where there is a specialist team’.

Health campaigner Liz Walke, of Save The DGH, was angered by the move.

She said, “Do people choose when to have a heart attack? This is very scary and dangerous.

“If we had good transport links with Brighton or Hastings they (the PCT) may be able to argue, but we don’t.

“Moving emergency intervention treatment for heart attacks to the Conquest or Brighton means that all the people in the Eastbourne locality will not have this essential core service.

“If you speak to anyone with medical expertise even they agree that this service must remain at both the DGH and the Conquest.There has been no consultation on this and as far as we are aware even the local doctors are unaware. The Save the DGH Campaign will fight these proposals.”

The leaked news comes almost five years to the day since thousands of people in Eastbourne marched to fight similar plans to downgrade the DGH’s maternity unit – an issue which has once again reared its ugly head. The team behind Save the DGH is planning a demonstration for later this month and has vowed to oppose any plans to remove either maternity or coronary services.