Published: 00:02, 19 March 2017
Campaigners are urging people to write to their MP in a bid to gain support against proposed hospital changes that will affect about 300 beds across east Kent.
The message came during a meeting to discuss the NHS Sustainability and Transformation Plan (STP) for Kent.
It was organised by Cllr Eileen Rowbotham and Cllr Mike Eddy at the Landmark Centre in Deal, with speakers Rita O’Brien and Rosie Retcher.
They labelled the plans as “dangerous” and “the final nail in the coffin”. Some of the packed audience renamed the proposals “slash, trash and privatise”.
Rita O’Brien, a former Department of Health civil servant, was the first to speak.
She helped explain exactly what the 42-page document could mean for people in east Kent.
It covers four areas including prevention, intervention, more localised treatment and the transformation of hospitals.
She said: “The plan suggests GPs will be expected to do more through local surgeries but there are no suggestions about how the NHS will continue to deliver the same level of GP services let alone increase them.
“The majority of the NHS budget goes on hospitals. They want to transfer things out so that they’re not done in expensive places.
“The only real fact that you see is that they’re cutting 300 beds in east Kent hospitals.
“They say this could be done by putting stuff out to GPs and community health.”
The figure of 300 beds was clarified by retired doctor John Sharvill who claimed the plans involve cutting 300 bed “activities” and moving 300 patients to somewhere where they could be “best cared for”.
Mrs O’Brien said 1,500 hospital beds had been closed in England since 2010 and that the UK had the lowest number of beds per head of any European country.
She said: “Many of our hospitals have occupancy levels of 95% or more. Some are working day after day at 100% occupancy. People in Europe think we’re barmy because it’s unsafe.
“We’ve got long waiting times at the moment and the service is under massive pressure. It’s going to buckle some time soon.”
Mike Eddy referred to the huge shortage of GPs in Kent, which he thought flawed the plans.
He said: “If Kent had the national average of GPs per patients we should have an extra 245 GPs, so we’re already down.
“There are 136 vacancies for GPs, so we’re 481 down.
“Patient care is on its knees. It looks like they’re not going to deliver a safe health care service.”
Rosie Retcher, of Fair Deal for the NHS campaign group, was the last to speak suggesting ways in which to tackle the plans.
She said: “We take the NHS for granted. We think it’s always going to be there for us.
“I first started to worry when the junior doctors had their strike. They do not go on strike lightly and the further you look into it you see that there has been a steady stealthy privatisation of the heath service with steady under-funding.
“This is where we are and it’s going to carry on down this road unless we fight for it.”
She asked that people not only wrote to MP Charlie Elphicke, but also Paul Carter, leader of Kent County Council, and Roger Gough, cabinet member for education and health reform.
She added: “The NHS was built in times of great austerity. It wasn’t easy, it was a great struggle. We owe it to all those whose lives depend on it, lives have been saved by it, before it’s gone.
“A lot of people say the STP is the final nail in the coffin and we must do everything we can to strengthen the opposition to it.”
Dover and Deal MP Charlie Elphicke said: “We are working hard to make the NHS sustainable for tax payers and to support hard-working doctors and nurses.
“It’s a real shame when people like Mike Eddy make wild claims about plans to close 300 beds in Kent, which simply isn’t true. I find it really sad people resort to spreading misinformation for the sake of scoring political points.
“We need to support GPs in east Kent who want to expand and modernise their practices. GPs here do not get fair funding. GPs in well-heeled and healthy west Kent get more. That’s why I have been pressing the Health Secretary so we have the resources we need.”
Emma Burns from South East Commissioning Support Unit, said: "Currently, at any given time in east Kent there are 300 people who are in a hospital bed but not receiving hospital treatment. This does not mean they do not need to be cared for in a bed, but we need to make sure that they are getting the right care in the right place, be that at home, in a community hospital or a care home.
"People don’t want to be in hospital if they don’t need to be and staying in hospital longer than necessary can be harmful.
"For example, extended hospital stays can increase the risk of infection, may lead to muscle wastage, and could make it less likely for people to return to their previous level of independence. It is also expensive – it costs £220 a day to care for someone in an acute hospital bed and this money could be better used elsewhere."
For updates or to see how you can help, like Fair Deal for the NHS on Facebook.
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