Rebecca addresses Southend A&E Concerns

"Thank you for contacting me about Southend A&E.  I completely understand why residents, like yourself, are concerned about our hospitals' services. However there has been a lot of false information circulating about the Healthcare plans for our local area and I would like to clarify some important points.

I have been being updated on the local hospital's emerging plans and they assure me they are working only to improve services for all south Essex patients and that much of that improvement will come through greater specialism and centres of excellence.

They are quite clear that there are NO plans to close the Accident and Emergency department at any of the three hospitals (Southend, Basildon & Chelmsford). In all options currently being discussed, there would continue to be a local A&E department, supervised by consultants and open 24/7 at each of the three hospitals.

All THREE A&E's would retain the skills needed to deal with 999 emergencies. At this current stage of the plan, the operational details of where each ambulance would be directed has not been discussed yet. However I cannot foresee any future plan where a hospital would not accept an ambulance that turned up at their door with an emergency. Southend, Basildon & Chelmsford A&Es will still have the skills to provide immediate stabilisation and management of all emergencies that arrive at the hospital and, where appropriate, arrange for onward transfer. Furthermore, in all options currently under discussion, around 95% of hospital visits would remain local at each hospital. This includes outpatients, day cases and many emergencies arriving at the local A&E.

In addition to these local services, one of the three hospitals, possibly Basildon, may be designated as the specialist emergency hospital. This means one hospital dedicated to specialist and complex emergency care (as well as providing A&E, outpatients and day cases for local people). The specialist emergency hospital would have several teams of specialists ready to provide immediate access to state-of-the art scans and treatments around the clock, which is not always possible in an old fashioned General Hospital A&E.

The practice of taking patients by ambulance from all parts of Essex to a specialist centre is already well established. For example, people who suffer an acute heart attack in Southend are currently taken by ambulance to the Essex Cardiothoracic Centre in Basildon. This has been in place for around ten years. Because of its expertise, someone with a serious stroke is taken by ambulance to Southend. Should there be a serious road accident in Southend, anyone with multiple serious injuries needing input from several specialists is currently taken to one of the major trauma centres in London or Cambridge, people with serious burns are taken by ambulance to Broomfield in Chelmsford and this would continue. 

In fact just this month I was on duty with the Police, in Westcliff when we were called to the scene of an accident directly behind Southend Hospital at which the air ambulance was in attendance, landing in the playing fields at Southend Boys Grammar School. The Air Ambulance took the patient to The Royal London Hospital not Southend because of the nature of the patient's injuries. Doctors not bureaucrats, decided that this was the best medical decision. Likewise, there was a stabbing in Southend while I was with the Police the following night, and the victim was driven by road to The Royal London, passing several other A&E departments on route, as medics judged a specialist centre could provide the most appropriate care. 

While life-saving emergency care is frequently time critical, a centralised team can start their care before the patient arrives at the centre. With advancing technology, ambulance paramedics can stabilise patients and send diagnostic information to the central team. Specialists can be ready and waiting at the door to fast track the patient to specialist scans and treatment. This fast access to the right specialist treatment is key to higher chances of survival and recovery and one of the main advantages of a specialist emergency hospital. Even with a slightly shorter ambulance journey, such access to specialist treatment is not always available in a general hospital A&E, where staff manage a broad range of conditions but may not see sufficient numbers of individual types of problem to acquire expertise in them. 

I know that many people are sceptical of politicians, which is why I must emphasise that these plans are clinician lead, which means that the views of Doctors and medical professionals are being used to formulate these plans. It is the opinion of senior clinicians leading the discussions, including the hospital group medical director, Dr Celia Skinner, that these proposed changes are needed to reduce waiting times in A&E, improve access to specialist life-saving care and improve outcomes for patients.

Separating the major emergency work in this way releases capacity and resources for planned surgery and other treatments. For patients, this could reduce waiting times and put an end to cancelled operations caused by surges in emergency cases. New centres of excellence across the hospital group in both planned and emergency care could compete with the best in the country to attract high calibre staff and bring the best of modern healthcare to mid and south Essex.

I know that some people are concerned about transport issues between hospitals.  I am told that all "blue-light" ambulance journeys are estimated to be within 45 minutes of any of the three hospitals. Over 96% of "blue-light" ambulance journeys are estimated to be within 35 minutes of Basildon Hospital. Further, more detailed work on this is to follow. In the circumstances where a patient with a specialist emergency needs to be taken to the specialist emergency hospital, this would only be by emergency ambulance. After the patient has received the specialist emergency care they need they would return home or to their local hospital or nearby step-down facility, most likely by patient transport. Any check-ups that may be required would be at the local hospital, or possibly even in a local health centre or GP surgery. They do not envisage patients having to travel long distances by public transport. For relatives, there may be some situations where families may find it difficult to travel to visit their relatives in hospital. Part of the work on these proposals is looking at potential ways to support carers with facilities for overnight stays and help with transport.

Finally at all the stages of the plans, you have the opportunity to summit your views. You can write to them at the following address: Mid and South Essex Success Regime, Swift House, Hedgerows Business Park, Colchester Road, Chelmsford, CM2 5PF
Or email: england.essexsuccessregime@nhs.net

Subject to the approval of both local and national NHS organisations, there will be a public consultation in the autumn of this year with decisions following in early 2018. The public consultation will explore in detail the benefits and implications of the proposals and will inform plans for implementation, which would be a carefully staged process over the next three to four years. You can find out more details about the plan at: www.successregimeessex.co.uk

I have been in regular contact with Southend Hospital and Mid and South Essex Success Regime since the announcement of their plans. If I am fortunate to be elected again for Castle Point, I intend to meet them again in the summer. I will continue to closely interrogate these plans as they develop, to be confident they are genuinely in the interests of the public. Please let me assure you, that I will NOT support any plans that I find would diminish the quality of health outcomes or put patients' lives at risk."