A health authority has defended a decision to relocate some of its services, following criticism from a councillor.

This week, East Sussex Healthcare NHS Trust confirmed it is to move its cardiac catheter service to a single site at Eastbourne District General Hospital (DGH) as part of a number of changes being made in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Currently the service operates out of both the DGH and Conquest Hospital in St Leonards. The change is said to be a temporary measure in “direct response to the challenges placed on us by Covid-19”.

But the decision has been met with criticism from Labour councillor Mike Turner, Hastings Borough Council’s representative on East Sussex Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee (HOSC). 

Cllr Turner said: “I am most concerned about this latest announcement about the temporary reconfiguration of the Cardiac Cath Lab to a single unit at Eastbourne.

“There are many important factors the trust has not disclosed, for example why have they chosen Eastbourne over Hastings. Why is it safer in Eastbourne than in Hastings? 

“The CCG (clinical commissioning group) has a policy to reduce health inequalities and Hastings is the most deprived borough in the entire county and one of the most deprived boroughs in the country. I think the decision is entirely against that policy.”

Cllr Turner said he was also concerned the decision could lead to a permanent relocation of the service, pointing out that similar proposals had been announced by the trust last year.

He said: “I am very sceptical that if it is closed for three months, [then] it will become custom and practice.

“I think this is more than a coincidence. The trust has already announced that they want it in one unit.

“We know they have got to come to HOSC if they want to make it permanent, but that is not the point. They are entitled to make the decision if they need to take it but why Eastbourne over Hastings?”

The trust argued Eastbourne District General had two laboratories compared with one at the Conquest.

It also pointed out the service is currently provided on a week-by-week rotation.

A spokesman said: “The Covid-19 pandemic is putting an unprecedented amount of strain on our services. 

“We are seeing an increasing number of Covid-19 positive patients in our hospitals, at the same time that ten per cent of our workforce is self-isolating or sick.

“So that we can maintain safe staffing and create space for a five-fold increase the number of critical care beds, we are making the difficult decision to temporarily move the Cardiac Catheter Service to Eastbourne DGH. 

“We already have tried and tested transfer procedures to move emergency patients across the county, depending on the week.

“We anticipate ten to 12 patients per week requiring emergency cardiology will be transferred to Eastbourne from the Hastings catchment area. 

“The decision to make this change is a direct response to the challenges placed on us by Covid-19. Any permanent change would be subject to the usual scrutiny and consultation requirements.

The decision will be reviewed after three months.”

Other changes made in response to the coronavirus pandemic include a temporary relocation of chemotherapy and infusion services to Eastbourne College, which is intended to ensure cancer patients can be treated in a safe setting. 

It is also to temporarily suspend the homebirth service and Eastbourne Midwifery Unit service. As a result all deliveries will be made at the obstetric unit at Conquest Hospital.

The trust said the decision was due to the current pressure on the ambulance service, which presented an “unacceptable risk” to mothers and their babies should hospital treatment become necessary. 

It has also created a rapid discharge hub, which it is hoped will ensure patients are out of hospital as soon as they clinically ready.

Ultimately the changes are intended to free up resources for the trust to care for patients during the pandemic.

The trust says it aims to have five times its normal critical care capacity, expanding such treatment into theatres and recovery areas.

 The trust has also cancelled all non-urgent operations and procedures and put visiting restrictions in place until the end of the crisis.