YEOVIL'S existing stroke services will not be reduced until their replacements over the border in Dorset are ready, health bosses have confirmed.

The NHS Somerset integrated care board voted in late-January to approve plans to remove Yeovil Hospital’s hyper-acute stroke unit (HASU), meaning the most urgent stroke patients will be transported to either Dorchester or Taunton for treatment.

Following a significant backlash from local residents on either side of the border, West Dorset MP Chris Loder wrote to chief executive to express his concerns – and claimed the new unit at Dorset County Hospital would not be ready before Yeovil’s existing HASU was shut down.

Health bosses have now provided assurances that none of Yeovil’s existing provision would be closed until the new unit in Dorchester was ready to go – adding that it would take around 18 months to implement the proposals.

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. (Image: Daniel Mumby)

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.

Mr Loder said that he had “significant reservations” about the proposals, adding: “my understanding is that provision in Dorset County Hospital will not be in place before the services at Yeovil Hospital are closed.”

The MP (who has represented his constituency since 2019) subsequently met with NHS Somerset’s chief medical office Dr Bernie Marden and chief executive Jonathan Higman on Thursday (April 26).

Following the discussions, a spokesman for NHS Somerset said: “The changes agreed will take 18 months to implement.

“The process will make sure that the services needed will be ready to go, before emergency stroke services at Yeovil move.

“We will continue to update local people, stakeholders and staff on our progress.”

Councillor Adam Dance – who is standing to be the next MP of Yeovil – said he shared Mr Loder’s concerns and would keep up the pressure on the Department of Health and Social Care to re-examine the changes.

He said: “Following my request to the health secretary to call in the decision made by Somerset NHS Foundation Trust to close the HASU at Yeovil and open a new unit at Dorchester (with significant funding from Somerset), I was pleased to hear West Dorset’s MP is also highlighting his ‘significant reservations’ with these proposals.

“I have already pointed out the risks to the health of stroke patients in east Somerset and around Yeovil. This is reinforced by the MP in our adjacent constituency who says ‘the decision will risk health outcomes for patients in West Dorset, especially those living in the north of the constituency.’

“I would prefer that he was demanding, as I am, an answer to why relocate the HASU to Dorchester when we could just reinvest at Yeovil.

“I have yet to hear back from the health secretary, but in the meantime I am continuing to argue for a more effective solution to providing the urgent and time critical treatment that many stroke patients need and deserve.”