Last week I was shown around the emergency department at the William Harvey in Ashford. The hospital was built to accommodate a population of 30 thousand. It now services the needs of 100 thousand.
The Accident and Emergency (A&E) is small and cramped. It’s difficult for us to find somewhere to stand which isn’t in the way. A universal shortage of beds means patients spend longer in hospital than they need to which doesn’t help the hospital or the patients.
The most seriously ill patients are taken to the Resuscitation Ward where immediate life-saving treatment is carried out. There are just six beds. The senior consultant tells me they run at an average of 100-120% occupancy. In London this would be 70-80%. To those with even the most basic grasp of numeracy, that means there ain’t enough beds at the Ashford hospital.
As space is at a premium, anywhere that isn’t used for lifesaving purposes tends to get requisitioned. Consequently staff, including those who frequently work 60-hour weeks, don’t have much by way of relaxation space.
I’m taken to a lone staff room the size of a single garage. I’m told the space was recently used for a staff lunch serving 60 people. I imagine I’d need to avail myself of the hospital resuscitation services after a few minutes cooped up in such a small space with 59 other souls.
Apparently, the event was celebrating ethnic diversity in the hospital workforce. It’s immediately clear how much the hospital relies on foreign labour. All those migrants, coming over here and healing our sick. Outrageous! I imagine Brexit won’t be improving that situation much, but that’s another story.
At least the staff room is cool. Staff clubbed together and bought their own air conditioning unit.
For Canterbury residents who have been living under a stone for the last few years, there is a big debate surrounding the future of the hospital in Canterbury and the William Harvey in Ashford. One will be downgraded, and one will get extra funding.
If the Kent & Canterbury gets the cash, a new hospital will be built on a site adjacent to the current hospital. If Ashford’s chosen, then the money will be used to patch up the existing building.
And herein lies the problem. The William Harvey isn’t fit for purpose. You can add some more pre-fabricated buildings on the side for a few million, but the departments which are already surrounded on all sides by buildings have no space to expand into.
Certain floors can only withstand a maximum weight of 22 stone. Anyone on the larger side may not be able to be treated in the correct ward in case their bed goes through the floor.
A new observation ward was recently added at a cost of £6.4 million. It’s a nice space, but it came prefabricated – and building work done on the cheap doesn’t tend to last the longest.
Canterbury is in a very fortunate position. A developer has offered to build the shell of the hospital in return for planning permission from the council to build houses elsewhere – on land not owned by the NHS.
Rather than patching up a building that isn’t fit for purpose Canterbury could have a state-of-the-art, brand new hospital. The NHS would only have to provide the kit and the staff. Sadly, the consultation date keeps being pushed back for nebulous reasons.
There are innumerable problems with the way the local hospitals are run. There is a culture of secrecy and bullying – which the annual staff survey highlights as having worsened every year since 2015. However, the stagnation preventing a decision being taken can’t be laid entirely at the door of the East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust.
Politically, healthcare along with social care is a hot potato. Donald Trump has made overtures indicating he’d see the NHS as part of any trade deal with the UK post-Brexit. Leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson has been attempting to cosy up to the president in recent months, so our local hospitals seem as safe in their hands as a dormouse in the coils of a cobra. Certainly, don’t expect any resolution to the current stalemate until Brexit is resolved.
Meanwhile, if Canterbury residents need the services of an A&E, we will continue being the best part of an hour away from a building that isn’t fit for purpose. But if there’s consolation to be had, it’s that the staff are amazing. They continue to work above and beyond the call of duty, battling against unnecessary extra difficulties in an already challenging environment.
As the senior consultant said to me, you can treat people anywhere as long as you have the right people.