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Voices of dissent are growing over successive health secretaries’ failure to make a decision on a regional centralisation of critical health services.

The Independent Reconfiguration Panel has noted that it has been a very long time since it delivered its view on Kent and Medway stroke services to government.

Its recommendations on centralising stroke units in Kent and Medway have sat on the desk of Matt Hancock and then Sajid Javid since 30 September 2019, which could be the longest the post of health secretary has taken to consider an IRP recommendation.

Adding to the discontent is Conservative Paul Bartlett, Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee chair, who told HSJ the delay was “disappointing”, adding: “Patience [is] wearing thin.”

He said: “I had hoped when the new [health] secretary took over that we would see a rapid resolution of the issue. The best healthcare outcomes for residents of Kent and Medway are dependent on all parts of the NHS moving at pace to open the new [hyper acute stroke units].”

The not knowing

Patients and their families who have been affected by harmful clinical incidents are facing growing delays to the investigation process.

Staff redeployment or absences due to covid – as well as emergency services pressures – are behind the build-up in cases that need scrutiny, sparking concerns from commissioners, although trusts are attempting to recruit additional investigators to manage their backlogs.

There is normally a 60-day target for serious incident reviews to be completed, but this has been suspended by NHS England because of the covid pandemic.

East Kent Hospitals Foundation Trust had a backlog of 57 outstanding serious incidents in mid-September, compared with just eight in the summer of 2020.

Commissioners in the Tees Valley have raised concerns over the investigations backlog at their mental health provider, Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys Foundation Trust.

The proportion of investigations breaching the 60-day target grew from 22 per cent in 2018-19 to 77 per cent in 2019-20, before reducing to 58 per cent in 2020-21.