What is the case about?
In February 2019, health commissioners for Kent and Medway decided to reduce our six existing stroke units down to just three. This would mean that the only stroke unit serving the whole of East Kent would be in Ashford, which represents a journey time of more than an hour for people in coastal areas.
NHS bosses have said that the three remaining units would be upgraded to Hyper-Acute Stroke Units (HASUs), which is supposed bring about an improvement in treatment. But evidence shows that longer journey times for critical care such as stroke can lead to more people dying or being left disabled.
The plans were approved by local commissioners despite clear disapproval revealed in public consultation responses, protests from the public and numerous local councillors voicing substantial concerns.
SONiK will argue for at least four HASUs across Kent and Medway, to ensure that all patients reach the care they need within approximately 35 minutes. As more people in Thanet suffer a stroke, and are hospitalised as a result, than people in more affluent parts of the county, we will argue for a HASU to be located at Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother (QEQM) Hospital in Thanet.
SONiK has arranged for this case to be heard by a High Court judge in a process known as a judicial review (JR). The case will look at the process that was used to decide on the three HASU sites and determine whether this was the appropriate decision based on available evidence.
Click this link for information about the legal case. https://saveournhskent.org.uk/?page_id=568
When will the court case happen?
It looks as though our case in the High Court will be heard in December – we hope to have the date soon. The case is likely to take three days. The judgement is unlikely to be made at the end of the hearing, because the issues are complicated. It will probably take several weeks – or even over a month – to come through.
Why are there TWO JR cases, and how do they relate to each other?
The SONiK case argues that there must be at least four HASUs for Kent and Medway, one of which should be in Thanet. The second case, does not contest that three HASUs are insufficient. It argues simply for one of the three HASUs to be sited in Thanet.
SONiK believes that it is wrong for the different hospital sites in Kent and Medway to be forced to bid against each other for life-saving stroke services. We insist that the best services are available in each area, with decisions made on the basis of local need rather than a desire to save money.
However, the two cases are now ‘joined’ meaning that they are separate cases but will be heard at the same time by the same judge. SONiK’s is the lead case, and we understand the Keppel case will adopt our main arguments and make some additional points. The background evidence to both cases was researched and assembled by SONiK, and the main arguments have been shared with and taken on by the Keppel case lawyers. It is expected that Leigh Day and Landmark Chambers, SONiK’s lawyers, will put the leading arguments to the judge.
What are the costs?
Both cases have successfully applied for legal aid to cover the majority of their costs. The Legal Aid panel ruled that, as the lead case, SONiK would have to raise a significant ‘community contribution’ of £15,000. This was done through a massive public fundraising campaign of large and small donations. We understand that the TSC-backed claim has raised £5,000 towards their costs.
Who are the lawyers?
SONiK has instructed solicitors Leigh Day ( https://www.leighday.co.uk ), who represented campaigners in the successful Lewisham hospital case. Leigh Day have instructed Barristers Hannah Gibbs and David Blundell on our behalf. https://www.landmarkchambers.co.uk/people/hannah-gibbs/https://www.landmarkchambersinternational.com/david_blundell
Marion Keppel and TSC have instructed the law firm Irwin Mitchell ( https://www.irwinmitchell.com ).
Can we watch the proceedings?
The case will be heard at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, in open court with a public gallery. SONiK will be attending the hearings and encourage all our supporters to join us. SONiK hopes to run a live news feed during the case.
What outcome can we expect?
Judicial Review cases are notoriously difficult to win. However, win or lose, the case means the arguments will be examined in public with the people’s voice heard in court. SONiK will celebrate if we win the case and press on with the fight. If we lose, we will continue fighting the dismemberment of NHS services in Kent and beyond. There will of course be the option to apply for an appeal, subject to the legal team’s advice and legal aid continuing.