Longer journeys but 'better treatment' for Kent stroke patients
Stroke sufferers in Kent and Medway could face longer journey times to access specialist treatment under plans to streamline the service.
NHS bosses in the region are assessing options which include cutting the current seven available hospitals to three specialist care centres.
The NHS says urgent treatment is vital to help recovery from strokes.
But health chiefs insist the final decision, after public consultation, will improve services in the region.
Senior health managers began a review of stroke services in Kent and Medway two years ago.
Appropriate urgent treatment
Currently patients who suffer strokes - about 2,500 a year in Kent and Medway - are taken to one of the seven acute hospitals in the region.
But the latest NHS best practice recommends patients should be taken to specialist units, where they can receive appropriate urgent treatment.
A Freedom of Information inquiry has disclosed that the Kent and Medway review board, which says it is still finalising the data, is considering a number of options that would enable the hospitals to meet national standards.
Under the three-centre option, the number of people living more than 45 minutes from a stroke centre could range, depending on which hospitals were chosen, from fewer than 2,000 to more than 330,000.
Patricia Davies, of the Kent and Medway Stroke Review, said the target was to provide potentially life-saving treatment to patients whose strokes were caused by blood clots within 120 minutes of an emergency call.
She said: "In London, hyper-acute units have reduced stroke deaths by nearly 100 a year."
Tara Galloway, regional lead of the Stroke Association, said: "It would be lovely if we could have really great quality services available in every hospital, but sadly, that's not going to be possible.
"In order for there to be adequate staffing, we need to make sure that we have some really well-resourced hyper-acute units available within the Kent and Medway area available for people to get to."