It has been clear for many years that the acute hospital service in East Kent is not fit for purpose. The scandal of baby deaths, and the long queues of ambulance waiting to deliver patients to Accident and Emergency are just the most obvious results of weaknesses in the service. A report to councillors this last December by the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group stated, “ Hospitals in East Kent have been struggling for many years to provide services in the present configurations(i.e. the William Harvey, QEQM , and Kent and Canterbury Hospitals) and are also trying to provide services from hospital buildings that are not fit for delivering modern healthcare and have reached the end of their useful life.” Last year the East Kent Hospital Trust said that “ our clinical community agrees that the current situation is untenable and that no change is not an option”. No wonder that the hospital service finds it difficult to recruit the best clinical teams and has to rely on locums.
For six years now plans have been developed by the local NHS organisations to create a new, fit for purpose hospital for East Kent. This would concentrate all acute specialist services, like renal, vascular, neonatal intensive care in one place Four years ago two options were identified for its location, and a case for building this hospital in either Ashford or Canterbury was presented to NHS England. This would not mean reducing the two other hospitals to ‘cottage hospitals. They would still provide 87% of the services they already supply to local people; and the rapid development of IT in healthcare would enable clinicians in the other hospitals to get immediate diagnoses of conditions from the consultants in the main acute hospital.
However, here we are in 2022, and five years have gone by. Why have we not got this much-needed new hospital? The answer is: the Government have not yet decided to provide the £460 million it is calculated it would cost to build it either at Canterbury or at Ashford. The latest information is that the new East Kent hospital plan has been accepted into a bidding process for money to build 8 new hospitals in England, the result of which will be announced this spring. We know how urgent our need here in East Kent is—but inevitably there will be many areas of England clamouring for the money.
At the moment the most important aim of everyone in East Kent must be to convince the Government we need that hospital, regardless of their preference for where it should be located. However, if—and we hope very much—when they allocate the money for it, then everyone who believes the hospital should be in the centre of East Kent, rather than on the edge, needs to make their voice heard, by councillors, our MPs, and above all by the local NHS commissioners.