A DORSET MP has claimed new stroke services at his local hospital won’t be in place before the existing services at Yeovil Hospital are closed.

Health bosses intend to remove Yeovil’s hyper-acute stroke unit (HASU), meaning the most urgent stroke patients will be transported to either Dorchester or Taunton for treatment.

The decision has received significant backlash from Somerset residents, who feared the extra journey times from the eastern part of the county would put patients at risk and make it harder for family members to visit.

The final business case for these changes was approved in late-March by the NHS Somerset integrated care board, with £1.8m of capital funding being set aside to create the new facilities at Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester.

But West Dorset MP Chris Loder has claimed that this new facility won’t be ready before the existing Yeovil HASU will close in May 2025.

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).

Under the agreed reforms, Yeovil will retain its acute stroke provision but all hyper-acute stroke patients will be transported to either Musgrove Park Hospital in Taunton or Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester, whichever is closer.

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.

Somerset County Gazette: Yeovil Hospital.Yeovil Hospital.

The changes are expected to cost around £4m out of Somerset’s health revenue budget (i.e. day-to-day spending) – which 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 from the relevant HASU.

Around £1.8m of capital funding will be provided to ensure Dorset County Hospital has sufficient capacity for the additional patients, with the changes expected to take effect from May 2025.

Mr Loder’s constituency (which he has represented since 2019) includes Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester and numerous towns and villages currently served by Yeovil Hospital, including Beaminster and Sherborne.

Mr Loder has written to NHS Somerset’s chief executive, arguing that the changes could have dire repercussions for people who currently rely on Yeovil’s existing stroke departments.

He said: “I have significant reservations about the decision to remove stroke services from Yeovil Hospital – not least because my understanding is that provision in Dorset County Hospital will not be in place before the services at Yeovil Hospital are closed.

“The closure of the stroke facilities at Yeovil is intended to unlock the development of a single hyper-acute stroke unit at Taunton.

“This means an unnecessarily long journey for west Dorset’s residents, and risks health outcomes until the services at Dorset County are operational.

“I’m concerned for the health and well-being of stroke patients in west Dorset, and I am working hard to ensure a suitable outcome for patients.”

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

Health campaigner Eva Bryczkowski, who lives in Glastonbury, raised the issue afresh when Somerset Council held a full council meeting in Bridgwater on Tuesday afternoon (April 23).

She said: “In order to ‘solve’ the problem of Yeovil HASU apparently being understaffed, and only open from 9am to 5pm, the care board has decided to dismantle the HASU, move Somerset money – an eye-watering £1.8m and counting – and transfer hyper-acute services to Dorset County Hospital – which is isn’t fully equipped either

“When we consider the long waiting and driving time of ambulances, this would indeed be a catastrophe for many stroke patients in Somerset.

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

“This has an inevitable knock-on effect on the dire financial situation at Somerset Council. adding to the spiralling debt faced by health and social care, in that such things as slower recovery rates and brain damage will increase the need for those who receive subsidised adult social care.”

Somerset County Gazette: Cllr Adam Dance, who is standing to be Yeovil's next MP.Cllr Adam Dance, who is standing to be Yeovil's next MP. (Image: Yeovil Liberal Democrats)

Councillor Adam Dance – who is standing to be Yeovil’s next MP at the upcoming general election – wrote to health secretary Veronica Atkins MP in early-April, asking her to formally review the care board’s decision.

Councillor Sarah Wakefield, portfolio holder for adult social care, said she shared some of the residents’ concerns but felt that NHS Somerset had given sufficient assurance that patient outcomes would not suffer from the changes.

She said: “In my view the matter has been very thoroughly aired.

“The NHS is struggling to recruit the stuff they need and does not have the time and resources to continually delay a decision which they have tried to make for months, if not longer.”

Further updates on the changes to Yeovil’s stroke services will come before the Somerset integrated care board in the coming months.