YEOVIL Hospital may keep some of its stroke services following a successful campaign by concerned residents.

NHS Somerset consulted with residents between late-January and mid-April over proposals to close the stroke services at Yeovil Hospital, with all acute and hyper-acute services relocating to Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton.

The plans have prompted an outcry from local residents, with more than 7,000 people signing an online petition created by the Quicksilver Community Group, begging the NHS trust to reconsider.

The Somerset Integrated Care Board (ICB) has now indicated it could keep some stroke services in Yeovil – though the most serious patients will still have to travel to either Taunton or Dorchester.

Stroke services are categorised by the NHS into two camps – hyper-acute (where emergency treatment is required within the first 72 hours) and acute (where the stroke is less life-threatening).

Both of the original options presented to the public in January envision a sole hyper-acute facility at Musgrove, with hyper-acute stroke patients being either transported to Taunton or the other neighbouring hyper-acute stroke facilities in Bath, Dorchester or Salisbury.

While Option A includes an acute stroke unit in both Taunton and Yeovil, Option B removed acute stroke services from Yeovil, forcing patients to either attend Musgrove or Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester.

During the consultation, numerous issues were raised as to whether Option B would compromise patients’ health – including:

  • The length of ambulance journeys to Yeovil, especially from small rural villages in the eastern half of the county
  • The lack of quality care as a result of one site having to handle an increased number of patients
  • High car parking costs and a lack of public transport to and from Yeovil Hospital, preventing family and friends from visiting stroke patients – which may hinder the patients’ recovery

The impact on staff currently based in Yeovil who would have to travel further for their shifts

Members of the Somerset ICB, which met in Yeovil on Thursday morning (November 30), were informed that there had been “a high response from carers within the consultation”, which included more than 50 public events.

Maria Heard, NHS Somerset’s deputy director of innovation and transformation, said that further investigation had concluded that Dorchester could not provide the full range of services under Option B without spending large sums of money on new buildings.

She said in her written report: “It is not possible to deliver the entirety of Option B at the Dorset County Hospital site and even a partly implemented solution would require significant capital investment.

“This investment would have to be diverted from other planned improvements in Somerset, to support both Dorchester County Hospital and Musgrove Park Hospital to provide stroke services, and could not be implemented within the two-year timetable set.”

In light of these restrictions, the board voted unanimously to proceed with Option A, on the condition that further modelling over the next two months could address any remaining concerns about staff and patient safety.

Caroline Gamlin, a non-executive ICB director, said: “It makes sense in terms of the actual services we are providing.

“We need to ensure that we are investing equally in the whole stroke pathway, with other interventions for people’s well-being.”

The board was divided over whether pursuing Option A would help to keep patients safe in light of long-running recruitment issues on the Yeovil site, which were identified by the NHS’ ‘Fit For My Future’ review in 2019.

Grahame Paine – who also chairs the SPARK Somerset charity – said: “I don’t feel that I’m assured that we are able to provide a sustainable workforce for Option A – it still feels stretched.”

Peter Lewis, chief executive of the Somerset NHS Foundation Trust (which runs both Musgrove and Yeovil Hospitals) replied: “Either of these options makes sustaining the workforce easier than it is today.”

The final business case for the changes will come back before the board in late-January 2024.