NHS London head: Hundreds died over stroke care delays

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Media caption'Stroke care changes cost lives'

Hundreds of people died or were left with lasting disabilities after delays in changing stroke care, the head of the NHS in London has said.

Dame Ruth Carnall said the pace of change in the NHS was too slow and controversial plans were often compromised by political interference.

She spoke at a conference at the King's Fund health charity in London earlier.

A Department for Health spokeswoman said changes to local health services were decided locally.

'Several hundred died'

The spokeswoman added: "Local healthcare organisations, doctors, nurses and other health professionals, with their knowledge of the patients they serve, are best placed to decide what services they need for patients in their area."

The stroke network started in February 2010 and involved the setting up of eight Hyper Acute Stroke Units across London - specialist centres for treating stroke patients - which it is claimed have saved up to 200 lives a year.

But Dame Ruth, the chief executive of NHS London, said it had taken too long to set up.

"Service reconfiguration takes too long to implement - even changes to stroke care took two years.

"In the meantime, several hundred people died unnecessarily and hundreds more suffered lasting disabilities whilst we tried to set up stroke networks."

'Soundbites' criticised

NHS London is to be scrapped next April.

Dame Ruth's comments came as she spoke about the lessons of her time in office to about 100 health professionals.

She went on to criticise politicians for interfering too much in health changes.

She said: "Politicians too often reduce complex medical arguments to soundbites.

"Compromise is a mistake but is hard to resist. There is a political aversion to major changes as we've seen with the debate over A&Es."

She also raised concerns over the future, when Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) made up of local GPs will take over the budgets for healthcare across the capital.

While she said many were ready to take over, she warned: "Emerging CCGs could easily be crushed by political expectation and the financial challenges we face."

The Department for Health said: "The NHS has always changed to meet local needs and pressures - but we have now put doctors and other healthcare professionals at the heart of ensuring that patients receive the very best and safest care in the right place."

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