MAJOR changes to stroke services being offered at Yeovil Hospital have been given the green light by Somerset health bosses – in less than 20 minutes.

NHS Somerset consulted with residents between late-January and mid-April 2023 over the future of stroke services at Yeovil Hospital, which handles stroke patients across eastern Somerset and much of north and west Dorset.

Following a considerable backlash by local residents – including a petition signed by more than 7,000 people – the Somerset Integrated Care Board (ICB) indicated in November 2023 that the hospital could keep some stroke services, with the most serious patients having to travel to either Taunton or Dorchester.

These proposals were formally approved by the ICB in late-January, despite residents’ concerns about journey times to other hospitals or the ease of family and carers being able to visit patients.

The ICB has now approved the final financial case for the change, which will see £1.8m spent on delivering additional capacity at Dorset County Hospital.

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 2023 envisioned a sole hyper-acute facility at Musgrove Park Hospital, 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.

NHS guidelines currently advise that any hyper-acute stroke unit should be staffed by at least six qualified consultants and should operated between 8am and 8pm seven days a week, seeing a minimum of 600 patients a year.

The ICB argued that, given long-term recruitment issues at Yeovil, such a facility would be most ideally based in Taunton – with any changes officially taking effect from March 2025.

Speaking before the board met in Yeovil on Thursday morning (March 28), health campaigner Eva Bryczkowski, who lives in Glastonbury, criticised the proposed changes, arguing they would put patients at risk.

She said: “You were determined to close Yeovil Hospital’s hyper acute stroke unit (HASU) whatever the consultation results were, or clinical evidence provided since then.

“As an unelected, largely unaccountable body, you could state that two plus two equals 49 and still get away with it. You do it because you can.

“Then you moved the goalposts in a spectacularly unfair fashion, by announcing on January 25 that in order to ‘solve’ the problem of Yeovil HASU being under-equipped and only open from 9am to 5pm, you decided to dismantle the HASU at Yeovil Hospital and give Dorchester an eye-watering £1.8m from Somerset for capital investment, to create a Dorchester HASU which does not exist at present.

“More than 170,000 people living in south and east Somerset can expect poorer health outcomes if they are unable to access emergency stroke treatment.”

Implementing the changes is expected to cost around £4m out of the county’s health revenue budget (i.e. day-to-day spending) – lower than the originally anticipate sum of £4.2m in light of the number of beds which would be provided within the new Dorset unit being reduced from six to four.

This revenue cost includes £1.9m for additional staffing at pay at Musgrove Park Hospital, £1.8m for similar costs at Dorset County Hospital, £100,000 for similar costs at Royal United Hospital in Bath, and £100,000 for “repatriation transport”, where patients are taking back to Yeovil’s acute stroke unit after receiving treatment at the HASU.

Around £1.8m of capital funding will be provided to ensure Dorset County Hospital has sufficient capacity for the additional patients – with NHS Somerset’s total capital programme for 2024/25 expected to be around £99m.

Alison Henly, NHS Somerset’s chief finance officer and director of performance and contracting, said: “We will continue to review our capital plan throughout the year to take account of any funds which may become available.”

Health bosses estimated the proposals will save £1m in the first full year of their implementation, rising to £3.5m by 2035.

The board voted unanimously to approve the final business case after less than 20 minutes of debate.