A LEADING consultant says south Essex patients would be better served by a single large specialist stroke unit, rather than two smaller ones.

Southend Hospital stroke specialist Paul Guyler wants the public to be given a say before plans for new hyper-acute stroke services are finalised.

Consultations were promised, but so far none have been carried out.

Southend Hospital already has a cutting-edge stroke unit and is being recommended as one of three future hyper-acute stroke units to serve the whole of Essex.

The others would be Colchester and Chelmsford.

At present, stroke patients admitted at weekends don’t have access to some treatments, including physiotherapy and rehabilitiation, which are vital to full recovery.

The new units would give patients immediate access to leading specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Plans to downgrade Basildon Hospital’s stroke unit were halted after protest and the NHS has given the unit an extra £1million to improve its services.

However, Dr Guyler warned it was unlikely the area’s two NHS clinical commissioning groups could afford to keep it open, if a big new hyper-acute unit was opened in Southend.

He said: “The public should be the ones to decide whether we want to have one unit, with better outcomes, or two units with average outcomes.

“I have no problem with people putting money into localised frontline services, but it is no substitute and is just delaying the inevitable if we want a 24- hour service.”

Dr Guyler said clinical commissioning groups covering Basildon, Thurrock and Southend needed to take a board view of what was needed across the whole of south Essex.

He added: “The four groups should get together to make a decision about what’s best for patients.

“This has been going on for 18 months. We have the clinical recommendations and the financial recommendations, but they have not asked the public.”

Strokes happen when blood clots reach the brain and cut off the blood supply, causing parts of it to die off. Such clots can lead to permanent disabilities, or even death, if vital clot-busting drugs are not given in time.

The faster a patient gets them, the more brain cells are saved.

Dr Guyler says even if they need to travel to Southend by ambulance from Basildon, patients will get faster treatment at a hyper-acute unit.

He explained: “The more brain we can save, the more likely a patient is going to make a full recovery and be able look after themselves. That’s the bottom line. Some people want to keep the service close to home, but even with an ambulance journey from Basildon to Southend, they will still be treated 30 minutes faster than they in Basildon.”

Basildon chief wants to retain hers, too

SOUTHEND Clinical Commissioning Group has backed the idea of having a hyper-acute stroke unit at Southend Hospital.

GP Dr Brian Houston, a member of the group’s governing body, said: “NHS Southend’s position has always been clear.

“The stroke service in Southend is nothing short of excellent, and this is a reputation we wish to help build upon. The group is committed to ensuring the best outcomes for patients.

In terms of stroke services, we are, and always have been, fully supportive of a hyper-acute stroke unit at Southend.”

However, Basildon Hospital chief executive Clare Panniker is equally keen for stroke care to remain on her site.

She added: “The most important thing is for stroke patients to have the best care. Geographically, we are very well situated to be a stroke unit.

“We want to make sure all our patients, including those in Thurrock, are close to a unit.

“We also want to keep work in Essex – otherwise patients would go to London hospitals, which is also more expensive for the clinical commissioning groups.

“We have made huge improvements and we are delighted to have the opportunity to invest in the services.

“The extra money will help us with the sevenday working investment to have more nurses and doctors, as well as more physio treatment.”