Hospital chiefs due to discuss options for A&E and orthopaedic care in east Kent

QEQM hospital

Health commissioners are meeting next week (30 November) to consider potential options for how future hospital services might be organised in east Kent.

This follows extensive discussions with health professionals and the public about how to improve standards for patients and ensure future services, both in and out of hospital, can better meet the needs of a growing and ageing population and be safe, high quality and sustainable into the long-term.

Doctors and other leaders from east Kent’s clinical commissioning groups (CCGs), which plan and pay for local health services, will discuss potential options for organising and delivering services to improve urgent, emergency and acute medical care (including A&E departments), specialist care, and planned inpatient orthopaedic care (such as hip and knee operations).

Commissioners are looking at two options for urgent, emergency and acute medical services in east Kent.

Currently the three main hospitals – at Ashford, Canterbury and Margate – each provide different services, with A&E departments at Margate and Ashford and an Urgent Care Centre at Canterbury. A range of specialist services are located at different hospitals. For example, the trauma unit is located at William Harvey Hospital, and inpatient kidney services are at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

NHS professions and the East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) say there is a body of evidence that shows specialist services, such as stroke, trauma, vascular and specialist heart services need to be centralised and located together.

They say this is because doctors, nurses and other professionals treating rare conditions need to see and treat enough patients every year to maintain their skills. They also need to be located together because patients affected by one of these conditions are more likely to need other specialist interventions and support services.

Guidance indicates a hospital with specialist services should serve a population of at least one million people, so in east Kent that would mean one hospital with specialist services.

OPTION 1: Organising services at our three main hospitals in different ways


This potential option is to have two emergency hospitals with 24/7 A&E departments, of which one would have the full range of specialist services. In addition, the third hospital would have a 24/7 GP-led urgent care centre, treating urgent illnesses and injuries that do not need to be seen by A&E doctors.

Based on the number of people in east Kent and the staff available to treat them, national guidance shows that there could be two full A&E departments in east Kent.

One of the two emergency hospitals would also be the centre for highly specialist services in east Kent (such as trauma, vascular and specialist heart services).

This potential option is the result of looking at all the possible ways that services could be organised across the three main hospital sites in east Kent. By applying a set of criteria, developed by clinicians and tested with the public, and taking into account national guidance, the NHS has arrived at one viable option for organising urgent, emergency and acute medical services. This is:

  • William Harvey Hospital, Ashford, as a major emergency centre with 24/7 A&E department and the centre for specialist services in east Kent;
  • Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital (QEQM), Margate, as the second emergency hospital, with 24/7 A&E;
  • Kent and Canterbury Hospital as the 24/7 GP-led Urgent Treatment Centre.

OPTION 2: New development at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital

This potential option is a new build connected to the current Kent and Canterbury Hospital, which would be a single major emergency centre for all of east Kent, with one 24/7 A&E and all specialist services at the same hospital (such as trauma, vascular and specialist heart services).

This option would mean that acute services (such as A&E, acute medicine and all specialist services) would move to this site from the QEQM Hospital and the William Harvey Hospital. Instead these sites would have 24/7 GP-led urgent treatment centres, as well as diagnostics (such as X-ray and CT scans), day surgery, outpatient services and rehabilitation.

It has been possible to consider and include this potential option because developer Quinn Estates has offered to donate to the NHS land and the shell of a new hospital which it would build adjacent to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, as part of a development to build 2,000 new homes.

Subject to planning permission and capital funding, this provides the opportunity to fit out new hospital buildings and still use parts of the existing Kent and Canterbury Hospital. This would be less than half the cost of building a new single site hospital on green belt land, which was ruled out as a possible option because there is not enough national funding to pay for it and it would take too long to build.

This is an additional potential option which has been included now in the NHS process. It could not have been included at the beginning of the process because it has only emerged as an offer recently.

Other hospital services

Restructuring plans include more care for people closer to home, delivered by local teams of health and social care professionals, working in GP surgeries, health centres and local communities, so that for day-to-day care and treatment, some people won’t have to go to hospital as they sometimes do now.

When people do need hospital treatment, the NHS wants to make sure it is safe, people are seen quickly and care is high quality and that people only stay in hospital for as long as they need to.

Six potential options for planned inpatient orthopaedic care services for further analysis

More patients than ever need this type of treatment. The waiting list for planned orthopaedic operations has risen by 75 per cent in four years. In the last three years, there has also been a fourfold increase in the number of operations cancelled on the day they were due to take place because the bed was needed for an emergency patient. Providing this service differently will cut waiting times and improve outcomes for patients.

There are six potential options for where the service could be located in the future at:

  1. only the Kent and Canterbury Hospital
  2. only QEQM Hospital
  3. only William Harvey Hospital
  4. both the Kent and Canterbury Hospital and William Harvey Hospital
  5. both the Kent and Canterbury Hospital and QEQM Hospital
  6. both the William Harvey Hospital and QEQM Hospital

Why is change needed?

East Kent Hospitals’ Medical Director, Dr Paul Stevens, said: “There have been huge medical advances over the last 30 years. We treat patients very differently now, with specialist teams looking after people with specific conditions such as kidney disease and heart conditions. This has led to much more effective treatment and people are living longer, with a better quality of life.

“But the NHS in east Kent is still set up to work the way it did 30 years ago. We know we can care for patients better by doing things differently.”

The aim is to provide hospital services where specialist teams have the equipment and staffing they need to provide excellent patient care; where people can get specialist intensive rehabilitation and outstanding planned inpatient orthopaedic care, and where you can get fast access to hospital treatment because people who no longer need hospital care are receiving appropriate treatment closer to home instead, freeing up beds for other patients.

What happens next?

Hospital doctors, GPs, other health professionals, NHS leaders and patient and public representatives will evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of each of these potential options, to reach a shortlist using detailed ‘evaluation criteria’ developed by clinicians and tested with the public.

The evaluation criteria include detailed questions to determine which option(s) would deliver the greatest improvements in patient care, are the most accessible for the greatest number of patients, can be best staffed, are affordable within the funds available, deliverable within the timeframe needed and best support research and education.

No final decisions will be taken until after commissioners have had the opportunity to consider feedback from the formal public consultation alongside all other evidence later next year.

The strategy is part of a draft plan aimed at saving health services in Kent and Medway some £292million.

The Health and Social Care Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP), created by Kent and Medway health trusts, the NHS, Kent County Council and Medway Council, sets out proposals to reduce ‘the estate’ – meaning the sale of assets and property – and “invest in housing and community facilities.”

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