Published: 14:20, 30 November 2017
Health commissioners say they will consider building a new hospital to replace two of east Kent’s A&E departments - but have admitted the potential impact on patients has not yet been looked into on the same scale as an alternative proposal.
A panel of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) met at The Grand Hotel in Folkestone today, where two approaches for the future of emergency care and six options for elective orthopaedic care were discussed.
East Kent NHS (EKHUFT) deputy chief executive Liz Shutler told the meeting that one option would be to upgrade the A&E departments at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother Hospital in Margate.
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Under the £160 million plan the urgent treatment centre would be kept at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital, but the main focus for emergency care would remain at Ashford and Margate.
The plan was subject to a five step "hurdle criteria" to test whether it would be accessible to patients, affordable, deliverable, clinically sustainable, and if it fits with previous decisions.
The panel said it also consider a £250 million plan for an entirely new hospital to be built along with 2,000 homes on greenfield land in Canterbury, put forward by housing developer Mark Quinn.
But this option did not face the same "hurdle" considerations that were applied to the first option.
The second option has sparked fears that the hospitals in both Margate and Ashford will lose their A&E departments.
John Sewell, an East Kent NHS public governor for Shepway, said: “I have heard no assurance this morning that the five hurdle criteria will ever be applied to the new hospital.
“In the end, only one option will have been subject to the rigorous process. Will the hurdle criteria ever be applied to the shell hospital?”
In response, CCG accountable officer Hazel Smith said the Canterbury option would not be subject to the same "hurdle criteria" of the first option, as the time has now passed.
She said: "We took legal advice and the offer from the developer was identified as a material new option that we couldn’t have envisaged at the start of the process.
"We were advised not to go back, but to look at it alongside the other option going forwards, to ensure we do due diligence on both and understand what each offers in terms of improving care for people in east Kent.
"Those questions will be gone through in detail."
After receiving the legal advice, the panel will instead review Mr Quinn's suggestion in detail over the forthcoming weeks and months.
Dr Tony Martin, Clinical Chair of NHS Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group, said: “We want the NHS to provide excellent healthcare for everyone in east Kent. To achieve that, it has to change.
“The meeting today is part of a very rigorous process we are going through to agree how hospital services should be organised in the future, to meet the needs of local people.
“Demand for health services is constantly growing and changing too. This means that our health and care system in east Kent is under real strain and is not meeting national quality standards.
“There are limited specialist staff and there is limited money to spend, so we need to use what we have wisely and effectively.
“The next stage is detailed testing and analysis by health professionals and patient representatives of all the potential options, to reach a shortlist that we can consult the public on next year.”
It is understood that details will be made in the next few months before being put to NHS England for a shortlist of options. Proposals would then go to public consultation in either April or May next year.
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