Grave concern, shock and anger were the shared reactions of Thanet’s MPs to news of the “interim centralisation” of high risk surgery at Canterbury hospital.
Neither North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale nor Thanet South MP Laura Sandys had been consulted about the decision.
Speaking hours after the announcement on Monday night from Mauritania on a charity mission, Sir Roger said questions needed to be asked as a matter of urgency.
He said: “Why is it clinically not safe? if it is not clinically safe, I do not wish to risk the life of any one of my constituents. What efforts are being made to recruit more surgeons? how long will this ‘interim’ period last? Why were neither Laura or myself consulted? We spent time with the trust last week and this was not mentioned.
”Why and how did the clinical director and clinical executive ot the trust allow it to get to this stage?
Sir Roger said the situation was totally unacceptable as it was “potentially a question of life or death.”
The MP found out “in the back of beyond” as a result of emails and texts from wife Suzy.
Ms Sandys said that she and Sir Roger wanted to meet with the trust as soon as possible to discuss the decision in more detail.
She said: “We need to make sure this is temporary. We also need to be really, really clear about what this is doing in terms of clinical outlook. I hope very much they are clear about recruiting more surgeons as quickly as possible and very clear about having normal service back on track as quickly as possible.”
Hospital bosses say they have been forced to centralise high-risk and emergency surgery to avoid a “serious clinical risk” to patients.
The East Kent health trust is moving all acute general surgery to Kent and Canterbury hospital after admitting it fears patients’ safety would otherwise be jeopardised by a shortage of specialist surgeons.
Just seven of the 16 surgeons currently performing the operations at Ashford’s William Harvey hospital and the QEQM hospital in Margate are permanently employed by the NHS.
And with some due to retire and others leaving, the Trust is concerned it would have to rely on locum surgeons without specialist general surgery skills to staff the two centres - putting patients at risk.
It is hoped setting up a hub in Canterbury - with a new theatre and ward - will help recruit nine new gastro-intestinal surgeons with the required skills.
Trust medical director Dr Paul Stevens said: “We have found it necessary to take this decision because of a serious clinical risk that will arise in high-risk general surgery due to insufficient gastro-intestinal surgeons being available to provide emergency cover, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”