CONTROVERSIAL plans to centralise stroke services in Carlisle are taking shape.

Progress is expected over the summer on the creation of a specialist stroke unit at the Cumberland Infirmary.

However, in a report to the Cumbria Health Scrutiny Committee, NHS bosses stress that nothing will change until key issues are resolved.

The update will seek to assure councillors on the committee that “considerable work” is going on to ensure estates and equipment issues are resolved, as well as the ongoing staffing challenges.

The development of a Hyper Acute Stroke Unit (HASU) at the Cumberland Infirmary will see patients from all over the area - including west Cumbria - sent straight to Carlisle if a stroke is suspected.

There will be no longer be any urgent stroke services at the West Cumberland Hospital in Whitehaven.

NHS bosses say the changes will mean patients have access to a specialist stroke team - made up of consultants, nurses and therapists - 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

As a result, they claim it will cut death rates and help people regain their independence by reducing long term disability.

But health campaigners in the west of the county fear that long journeys to Carlisle will increase the risk for those who live furthest away, particularly in south Copeland.

Health chiefs say that at present, there are two five-day-a-week services, at the West Cumberland Hospital and the Cumberland Infirmary.

Due to a national shortage of stroke specialist staff - consultants and nurses - these teams are currently working under “immense pressure.”

Admission to the new HASU is likely to be for a maximum of 72 hours - at which point the patient will be discharged home, or if they need more support and are from west Cumbria can be transferred to Whitehaven.

Patients from the north who require extra support will remain in Carlisle.

Work is also underway to make sure that early supported stroke discharge (ESSD) teams support patients at home, or closer to home, more quickly.

There is also stroke prevention work underway, particularly in the Copeland area, to help reduce the risk.

The health scrutiny committee is being updated on the progress made at a meeting in Kendal today.