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NHS England asked for extra cash as Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley CCG faces £17m deficit

Funding for health care services in north Kent is failing to keep up with the level of growth in housing and population.

The Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), which commissions services including mental health and emergency care for 258,000 people, is facing a £17 million deficit for the end of the financial year.

Housing and population growth has outstripped increases in funding for the CCG over the last three years, with it expected to be boosted by just 1% a year against a population rise of 26% over the next decade due to developments such as Ebbsfleet Garden City.

It means the deficit could reach £42 million by 2021.

Thousands of A&E patients in Kent had to wait more than four hours to be seen. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library
Thousands of A&E patients in Kent had to wait more than four hours to be seen. Picture: Thinkstock Image Library

A CCG spokesman said: “Many CCGs and hospital trusts are reporting a deficit this year.

“In Kent, we are no different. Other CCGs in the region have found it difficult to break-even financially, and in some areas where CCGs are breaking even or reporting a surplus at the end of the financial year, their hospital trusts have deficits.

“In Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley our funding levels have not kept up with the unprecedented growth in housing and population.

“This has impacted health care services considerably and in particular the number of patients being treated by our hospitals.

“The CCG has seen increased activity at Dartford and Gravesham Trust at a cost of £11m plus £3m with other providers of acute services.

“Around 50% of this increase was as a result of the population growth, the rest was increase in demand for services.

“As a result of minimum wage increases and the employer pension, the CCG had an additional cost of the rate paid for Funded Nursing Care of £1.2m.

“We have been talking to NHS England about pressures and have been working hard to reduce the deficit and we will continue to do our best to ensure patients get high quality, safe care.”

Last year's report on fears over Ebbsfleet Garden City's impact on local healthcare
Last year's report on fears over Ebbsfleet Garden City's impact on local healthcare

The deficit was a focus of conversation at Dartford council’s latest policy and overview committee meeting.

Chairman Cllr Eddy Lampkin (Con) said the issue was “a matter of serious local concern” and he has written to the chief executive of NHS England, Simon Stevens, in a bid to secure more funding for the CCG.

“It seemed to the committee this is unsustainable and untenable for the CCG and for our local population,” he said.

“The committee understands the country’s difficult financial situation but argues that the Dartford, Gravesham, and Swanley CCG should be considered a special case, there being very few areas experiencing levels of growth comparable with those in Dartford, and at such pace.”

He also cited the proposed development of a theme park on the Swanscombe Peninsula as justification for greater funding with a visiting population boom expected, although that was thrown into doubt last week.

Cllr Eddy Lampkin
Cllr Eddy Lampkin

In 2016, the chief executive of Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust, Susan Acott, warned Darent Valley Hospital will struggle to cope with the population spike caused by Ebbsfleet Garden City.

The 478-bed hospital is under huge strain and there are fears it would not be able to cope with the needs of residents moving in to the development, which will eventually have 15,000 homes.

Ms Acott said the hospital was “overstretched” and the population spike caused by the garden city was “a fundamental problem which no one is addressing or even seems to know how to address”.

She later suggested that the NHS should consider charging patients.

Darent Valley Hospital
Darent Valley Hospital

Last week the trust announced it has been awarded £944,291 for winter A&E improvements.

The money is part of the A&E streaming package, announced in the government’s spring budget, and will be used to build two new GP assessment rooms at Darent Valley Hospital and hopefully allow patients to be seen more quickly.

Earlier this year Dartford council revealed it was working with the CCG to open a new medical centre, in the town in light of plans for hundreds of new homes in Lowfield Street.

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