At Thursday’s full Council meeting, I again questioned Tory Health Care supremo, Cllr Lesley Salter, about the downgrading of our local A&E department and presented her with conclusive evidence that the move will cost lives. In spite of reiterating her previous claims that the ruling local Tories & UKIP councillors will “only support proposals which will lead to improvements in health outcomes for Southend residents.“, she dismissed the evidence produced by leading research professionals in the field, erroneously claiming it to be ‘out-dated’. Cllr Salter also denied any decisions had been taken yet to downgrade Southend’s A&E department, but the fact that Southend Hospital’s Trauma and Orthopaedic wards to be transferred to Basildon, would indicate otherwise – without these wards Southend would not be able to accept ‘blue light’ 999 emergency ambulances.
A survey of data conducted by Professor Jon Nicholl and his team at Sheffield University published in 2007 (see here) found that for every extra 10km ambulances had to travel, as the crow flies, equates to a 1% increase in mortality for patients with life-threatening emergencies. With Basildon being about 16km from Southend, measured in a straight line, this would mean 16 extra deaths for each 1,000 journeys!
I have recently contacted Prof Nicholl, which is more than Cllr Salter cared to do before dismissing this evidence, and he confirms the research is still relevant today. I’ve also contacted Prof Nicholl’s fellow researcher and colleague at Sheffield University, Prof Goodacre, who wrote to me recently:
“The main criticism of our study was that, even in 2007, the findings were out of date because ambulance services were providing interventions that in 1997-2000 would have been delayed until arrival at hospital. However, when I challenged critics to name the interventions that had been adopted by the ambulance service between 1997 and 2007 they usually struggled.”
He goes on to say that since that time there has been the introduction of specialist services for heart attacks, strokes and major injuries, which I duly acknowledge – for a minority of patients suffering heart attacks (STEMI, which accounts for about 25-40% of all ‘heart attacks’) conveyance to a specialist unit is best, this already happens at Southend and accounts for 2-3 patients a week. Southend already has an award-winning specialist stroke, headed by Dr Paul Guyler, that is threatened with closure under these plans meaning patients facing possibly fatal delays on Essex’s congested roads. Major trauma injuries also already go to either London or Adenbrookes for specialist care, but as Prof Goodacre notes:
“although in the case of major injuries there is an ongoing problem with identifying who has a serious injury and who doesn’t, particularly when the majority of seriously injured people are either intoxicated with alcohol or older people with other illnesses.”
It’s also the case that, driven by cost-cutting, fewer ambulances now have paramedics on board than was the case when data for this study was collected, meaning patients may not receive any specialist care during their extended journeys.
The curiously named Success Regime Essex, the body promoting the introduction of the cost-cutting Sustainability & Transformation Plan (STP) for Mid & South Essex, has been challenged to produce their evidence for claiming this reorganisation of Southend, Basildon and Chelmsford’s Brookfields Hospital will lead to better patient outcomes for life-threatening A&E admissions. To my knowledge no substantive evidence has so far been provided.
I have contacted all three ward Councillors for Prittlewell to ascertain their positions regarding what appears to be the inevitable down-grading of Southend’s A&E department. From the Conservative Councillors, Cllr Meg Davidson & Cllr David Garston, I received a very similar response (here) to that of Cllr Salter. As yet I have heard nothing back from Cllr Tino Callaghan.
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