STRUCTURE: A Sussex acute and community trust has fought back following criticism of its reconfiguration plans from its own consultants and two local campaign groups backed by the media.

East Sussex Healthcare Trust has sought to “clarify” its plans as a result of what it describes as “a number of rumours” circulating about proposals to reconfigure its stroke services and orthopaedics and general surgery.

It is currently in the middle of a public consultation on moves to centralise them at one of its two main acute sites, Conquest Hospital in Hastings and Eastbourne District General Hospital.

The plan is part of a wider five-year clinical strategy designed to help reduce duplication of services across the trust’s sites, as revealed by HSJ in a Local Briefing in April.  

The trust currently provides hyper-acute and acute stroke services at both hospitals in non-specialist stroke wards. It would like to replace this with a single specialist stroke centre at one of the sites.

In addition, both its sites currently perform general surgery and orthopaedic procedures. It wants to centralise “all emergency and high risk” general surgery and orthopaedic procedures at one of the hospitals, though both would continue to provide low risk, planned procedures.

However, the trust has run into internal and external opposition since it launched its three month consultation on 25 June.

Two local campaign groups have formed with the aim of protecting a full range of services at both sites. They have held several protests with the support of the local press and Jonathon Lloyd, Liberal Democrat MP for Eastbourne and Willingdon.   

Meanwhile, Eastbourne DGH’s consultants advisory committee has written to the trust’s management warning that the plans did not “deliver clear benefits to patients” and that it could not support them.

The committee’s letter – obtained by HSJ – said the “main body of consultant opinion expressed little or no confidence in significant elements of the strategy”.

“Due to the inevitable repercussions upon all clinical departments including A&E, it was felt that the whole strategy should be put forward to public consultation,” it said.

The committee’s “strong recommendation” was for both sites to be “developed to improve quality of care, training issues and access to patients”.

But in a public statement issued last week the trust said: “We believe by putting some of our more specialist services onto a single site we could improve the quality of service available for local people. This is in keeping with what is happening across much of the country; it is safe and it does improve care.

“We want to maintain two thriving major hospital sites in Eastbourne and in Hastings.”

In particular, the trust stated that it was “committed” to investing in A&E services at both hospitals.

The statement was reinforced by chief executive Darren Grayson’s latest “weekly message” to staff, in which he said: “The proposals are receiving a lot of local media coverage with comment from some local stakeholders and campaign groups which is not always entirely accurate.”