NHS to Canterbury: Where do we put the hospitals?

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The Kent and Canterbury

If you’ve been living under a stone for several years you might not have heard that hospital services in east Kent are facing a massive process of reorganisation. For everyone else this is quite a big deal.

So where are we?

In 2002 Labour Health Secretary Frank Dobson took the decision to close Canterbury’s A&E and make everyone travel to Ashford or Margate if they needed emergency care.

This set a precedent from which the Kent & Canterbury Hospital has never recovered. Gradually over the years, services have been chipped away to the point where there could be almost nothing left.

You can no longer go the K&C if you are having a stroke or heart attack. Pregnant mums about to give birth have nowhere to go in Canterbury either.

With NHS spending power drastically shrinking each year, EKHUFT, the Trust that runs the three hospitals, needs to reorganise how it provides services or risk everything grinding to a halt.

Since the K&C became the poor relation of the hospitals in Margate and Ashford, it looked like game over for Canterbury until a local developer made an offer to build the shell of a new hospital in return for planning permission for 2,000 new houses.

After considerable pressure applied by campaign groups, in particular CHEK, the NHS is now formally considering the proposal for a new hospital. In 2019 a public consultation will be held asking local people which of two options they prefer.

Option 1 involves centralising all specialist services in Ashford. Margate would retain a significantly scaled-down A&E, but anyone suffering a heart attack or stroke would need to go to Ashford for treatment.

Option 2 would mean building a brand-new super hospital in Canterbury and centralising services here.

Sadly, this choice has pitted communities against each other.

Thanet residents are calling for specialist services to be placed in Margate as well as Ashford.

Ashford residents argue centralising services in the William Harvey is the most cost-effective option, given that they are already doing most of them.

Canterbury says it has the largest population in the county outside Maidstone and is in the centre of east Kent making it the most equitable choice if services have to be centralised somewhere.

The principle argument against Margate is that it is surrounded on three sides by sea. It would seem an odd choice of location for a hub that supposedly serves a much wider population than just Thanet residents.

The reverse logic applies to Ashford. Parts of Thanet are over an hour away from the William Harvey hospital, even in an ambulance with the lights flashing. And that’s assuming no traffic.

You might be forgiven for thinking Canterbury was therefore the obvious choice, but some seem to be uncomfortable with the idea of a developer being involved – even though no NHS land or assets would be sold off to pay for it.

Previous hospital builds in other parts of the country have been funded by a mixture of government and private finance, known as PFI deals, which have ended up costing the taxpayer dearly. It’s possible that these individuals are confusing PFI deals with what’s proposed for Canterbury.

Other groups of residents are calling for the three hospitals to all retain specialist services – a view heavily supported by left-wing campaigners.

This view doesn’t take into account changes and advances in medicine. In the past a hospital might have had one surgeon responsible for everything. There are now specialist consultants for just about every part of the body from the feet to the liver to the nose.

Creating three specialist hospitals would require a full complement of surgeons, wards and specialist equipment for every ailment – a situation that is unrealistic in any honest appraisal of modern healthcare. Mainly because there wouldn’t be enough patients for every specialist consultant to treat.

To me, a new hospital in Canterbury is the only viable solution.

Whatever you think, the provision of local healthcare is going to change. You can either get involved in the process or sit back and let it happen.

I know which I will do.

If you want to find out more, the NHS is running events across east Kent presenting the options and talking about the choices. You can find out more here.

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