Health campaigners' and public's anger over proposed 'downgrading' of hospitals

AROUND 35,000 patients and their families will have to travel almost 20 miles along the congested A259 to receive emergency treatment if NHS bosses’ proposals to change three key services at the Conquest Hospital and Eastbourne’s DGH get the go-ahead, it has been claimed.

Campaigners from Hands off the Conquest accused the local hospital Trust of downplaying the possible adverse impact that changes to emergency orthopaedics, stroke and general surgery services could have during a meeting this evening (Friday), chaired by Hastings MP Amber Rudd.

At the event at the Royal Victoria Hotel in Marina, St Leonards, residents, local councillors and other interested parties had the chance to voice their views and concerns.

Campaigners’ claims come as NHS bosses from East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, which runs both the Conquest and the DGH, end their 14-week consultation, entitled Shaping our Future, next week.

In it general surgery and the higher risk and emergency work will be based at either the Conquest or Eastbourne DGH. Emergency orthopaedics and stroke services would also be centralised at one hospital.

At today’s meeting, Margaret Williams, chairman of Hands off the Conquest, said: “We have no wish to fight with the hospital Trust, as we think the staff there are wonderful, dedicated and do their very best to make the life of patients better. However as we have always said that because of the road infrastructure, emergency services must stay local.

“We believe that the Trust is minimising the negative outcome for the number of patients and those affected if these specialties are reconfigured on a single site. The Trust states that about 15 patients per day will have to travel further. The annual figure comes to 5,500. Together with patients, family and staff that equates to about 35,000 residents affected per annum.”

Mrs Williams said that would mean up to 100,000 extra journeys each year on the A259 regarded as the ‘ninth most dangerous road in the country’.

“Taking trauma away from a hospital effectively downgrades A&E,” she added, and called for the consultation to be stopped and the Trust to ‘go back to the drawing board’.

Dr Hugh Nicholson, a retired GP and chairman of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) South East Coast Regional Council, feared stroke patients in more rural areas, such as Camber, would not reach hospital in time within an hour to have a CT scan if they had to travel all the way to Eastbourne.

Dr Andy Slater, medical director for East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust, said: “This is not about downgrading either of our two hospitals. This is about providing two fully utilised hospitals that are the centre of their community that provide a sustainable healthcare model that patients in Sussex deserve.

“We have got a substantial change ahead of us, not just in East Sussex but in the NHS as a whole. Health care is changing and becoming ever more hi-tech, the demand is increasing and doctors and nurses are ever more specialised in what they do.”

Dr Slater stressed both the Conquest and DGH will keep a full A&E, day case surgery will remain unchanged and outpatients’ appointments will stay at the hospital most convenient to where the patient lives.

He added that in London the NHS there had reduced the number of stroke units from 30 to eight, creating specialist centres of excellence, meaning the vast majority were getting CT scans within an hour, spending less time in hospital and more lives being saved.

Cllr Mike Turner poured scorn on the proposals.

He said: “What you (Trust) are trying to imply contradicts basic biological science. Brain cells die by the second so if someone has to travel further they will have lost a lot more brain cells they can never replace. Every second is vital; otherwise you have lost a great deal of recovery time.

“This is about cost-cutting and I know from experience from someone who recently had a stroke. If they had had to travel to Eastbourne they would not be here today.”

Cllr Turner said consultants were being paid up to £2,000a day to be brought into hospitals with the aim of pushing through Government policy.

“It’s an absolute disgrace and Amber Rudd should be standing side by side with us,” he added.

Ms Rudd argued back and said: “This is not about politics or money, this is about saving lives. It’s about getting the best health outcome for patients.

Stuart Welling, the hospital Trust’s chairman, admitted the organisation would save £8 million a year if the changes came into effect. But he said: “This would allow us to invest very significantly in stroke care. If there should be a centre of excellence in stroke care it should be in East Sussex. We cannot achieve this goal having the service on both sites.”

The public have until next Friday (September 28) to make their views known over the proposed changes at the Conquest and Eastbourne DGH.

The proposals are contained in the consultation document, Shaping our Future, and can also be downloaded from the website where there is an opportunity to comment on the plans.

A final decision will be made by NHS Sussex, the body that holds the purse strings for hospital services, before the end of this year.