At last there is a glimmer of light at the end of the COVID tunnel. The NHS—after a year of heroic effort to combat the pandemic –now will be looking to what has to be done to meet the needs of the future.
Here, in East Kent, there is no question that there has to be a radical transformation of acute hospital care. At present there are three acute hospitals , at Ashford, Canterbury, and Margate, each of them struggling to attract highly-qualified staff, and struggling to cope on the budgets they are given. The figures are shocking. 55% of consultant jobs, and 24% of nursing posts are vacant. The national standard for accident and emergency waiting times has not been met for 6 years; only 9 out of the expected national clinical standards are being met. East Kent maternity services have been found to be seriously wanting, with deaths of newborn babies a result. Clinicians are agreed that the only way to solve this problem is to have a single Centre of Excellence, with all specialist services on one site,for East Kent.
Work has been going on for over four years to plan for this. Now the plan has been submitted by the local NHS to the decision-makers in London. It contains two options for the location of this hospital: Ashford (Option 1) and Canterbury (Option 2).Originally there was just one option—Ashford. However, the offer of a developer to construct a new hospital building in Canterbury, next to the existing Kent and Canterbury Hospital, has dramatically changed the calculation. The cost of providing a hospital here is now very similar to that for extending the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
The argument for having this new acute specialist Centre of Excellence in Canterbury is very strong. Canterbury , after all , is at the very centre of East Kent.
The offer of a hospital building is dependent on the developer being given permission to build houses on the land adjacent(NOT on the Kent and Canterbury Hospital site—that will remain in NHS ownership).Clearly if there are good planning reasons why that land should not be built on , then the Council’s Planning Committee will say no.
Of course, no-one wants more greenfield land around Canterbury to be built over. The unfortunate truth is that the Government has greatly increased the number of houses the Council must allow to be built each year until 2040, and if the Council do not allocate enough land then developers will be able to build where they want. In these circumstances it is inevitable that substantial amounts of greenfield land will be built on. Developers of all large sites are required by law to contribute money for community facilities. If planning permission for the land in question here is given, then the provision of a hospital building will be one of those requirements.
It should be said that the plan does not require the other two hospitals to wither away. They are very much needed, as urgent treatment centres , catering for 87% of local people’s hospital needs, with state-of-the-art diagnostic facilities, and good IT links to consultants at the central hospital.