By Local Democracy Reporter Ciaran Duggan
Controversial plans to transform hospital services in east Kent are being reviewed by NHS leaders.
Kent County Council (KCC) and Medway Council’s health scrutiny committees yesterday reviewed £460 million plans to transform A&E and specialist care in the east of the county.
The Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said it is still investigating the “credibility” of two options ahead of a public consultation.
Kent county councillors have said it remains “difficult” to decide between the creation of a new “super” hospital in Canterbury or expansion of emergency services at the William Harvey in Ashford and QEQM in Margate.
Rachel Jones, who is the CCG’s executive director of strategy and population health, said: “We need to market test the two options and really understand that both are viable and deliverable, before we go to a public consultation.”
Speaking to the panel of Kent county councillors, she added: “I think that is to the benefit of the whole population of east Kent.”
A funding bid to transform emergency hospital care in the east of the county was initially made to the Department for Health and Social Care last October.
However, the government has delayed making a final verdict due to the coronavirus pandemic.
One of Kent’s two options includes a five-storey major emergency unit for the whole of east Kent built near the Kent and Canterbury Hospital (K&C).
Under the plans, heart and stroke care would be centralised in Canterbury.
Developers Quinn Estates have agreed to build the shell of the hospital for free as part of a wider housing development of 2,000 homes on surrounding land, with the NHS having to find the money to equip it.
Kent and Medway CCG chiefs have described it as an “innovative” scheme.
However, concerns were raised by Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), who is KCC’s health scrutiny chair, about the “viability” of the “super” Canterbury hospital proposal.
At yesterday’s meeting, the Ashford county councillor said: “I have never been convinced that is going to be adequately markedly tested.”
He expressed caution over the “reliability” of the scheme, saying: “I am not sure it is credible to rely on private funding to deliver a larger hospital.”
The Kent NHS’ other option includes centralising specialist care at Ashford’s William Harvey Hospital, with A&Es at both Ashford and Margate hospitals expanded. Meanwhile, 24 hour urgent care would continue K&C.
Both will be scrutinised more closely in a forthcoming public consultation, although the timeline for this is not known.
Ms Jones added: “I think this is a really positive step forward for the east Kent transformation programme.”
Carly Jeffrey from campaign group Save Our NHS in Kent said: “It is still our position that both options on offer are unsatisfactory. Centralising stroke, A&E and consultant-led maternity in Canterbury is bad for those that live in the Thanet and Ashford areas and could even worsen wait times for Canterbury residents.
“The option that moves services to Ashford is bad for those in Canterbury, and it is still unclear what level of service will remain at QEQM hospital under that option. Various studies show that centralising A&E does not bring about any improvements to mortality or disability outcomes, and in some cases, worsens mortality outcomes. Outcomes tend to worsen if the journey time rises about 25 minutes, which will be the case for at least one of our districts in east Kent if either of these plans proceed.
“We are also concerned about the additional pressure on the struggling ambulance service and the increase in already appalling health inequalities in deprived areas like Thanet.”
A final decision for funding is expected from the government by the end of 2022.