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Campaigners take legal advice over fears downgrading of the Kent and Canterbury Hospital is already underway

By Gerry Warren

Health campaigners fear the imminent transfer of some acute services from the K&C indicates the downgrading of the hospital is already underway.

They are holding a public meeting next week and a protest march in June, and have sought legal advice over the actions being taken by the health trust before a public consultation has been held.

Last week, Dr David Hargroves, the trust’s lead stroke specialist, was quoted as saying "not everything can be at your local hospital" when discussing the "temporary" transfer of stroke services out of the K&C.

Concern for Health in East Kent chairman Ken Rogers.

Concern for Health in East Kent chairman Ken Rogers.

But the chairman of Concern for Health in East Kent, Ken Rogers said: "This is a clear indication to me that he believes this move and others to be permanent and it has already been decided, pre-consultation. That’s illegal and we are taking advice.

"I am sure we have the backing from the public to pursue this through the courts if necessary."

Trust spokesman Steven James says hospital chiefs welcome the invitation to explain their plans to the public at the meeting at the Canterbury Academy at 7pm on Friday, April 28.

He said: "We are looking at a long-term model of care which makes the best use of all of our hospitals and need local people to help us to get this right, which is why there will be no changes to the way we deliver services for the long-term without a public consultation.

“We are working with Health Education England and other NHS organisations to ensure the transfer of junior doctors is safe and carefully planned and have collectively agreed to work to the date Monday, June 19.

"We need to temporarily combine a limited number of services at the Kent and Canterbury with those at our hospitals at Ashford and Margate while we work on a sustainable solution."

The Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury

The Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury

But only when a consultation document is released will health bosses reveal the new proposed designations of east Kent’s three biggest hospitals, including in Margate and Ashford.

A Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) proposes one site hosting all main services, an A&E department and a maternity unit, with the William Harvey in Ashford the most likely destination.

A second site will offer A&E and maternity departments – like those presently at Margate’s QEQM – with the third reduced to a hospital offering elective surgery and rehabilitation services.

With most of Canterbury’s junior doctors set to be transferred to Ashford and Margate on June 19, ending the site’s emergency cover for heart and stroke patients as well as treatment for the seriously ill elderly, it is feared the K&C will lose out most.

Kent and Canterbury Hospital

Kent and Canterbury Hospital

It has also been revealed the calling of a snap general election will "inevitably delay" the public consultation, which is now not expected to take place until late this year or early next.

The future of the K&C is likely to be a hot campaigning issue for candidates fighting to win the Canterbury and Whitstable seat just 11 days before the transfer.

Emma Burns, a spokesman for the health authority’s transformation plans, says new MPs have a vital role to play in overseeing the changes.

She said: “The STP Programme Board has agreed that plans for health and care services in east Kent will go out to public consultation as soon as they are fully ready.

“It is a process that requires a great deal of hard work and, while it is being progressed as quickly as possible, it cannot be rushed.

“It is also very important that MPs are able to play a full role in representing their constituents as we develop the plans so the general election will inevitably cause some delay.

“As yet, no date has been set for the start of the public consultation although we hope to see it get under way towards the end of this year or early next.

“The proposal for future services at each of the three acute hospital sites in east Kent will be set out in the public consultation.”

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