Published: 06:00, 28 February 2021
Ashford’s MP says no amount of glossy drawings can disguise the fact that shutting the A&E department at the William Harvey would be a “ridiculous” decision.
Damian Green has spoken out after a computer-generated image revealed for the first time what a new 'super' hospital in Canterbury could look like.
The state-of-the-art facility planned for farmland next to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital is one of two options health bosses are exploring as they look to transform healthcare in the east of the county.
The first proposal would see all specialist services in east Kent move to the William Harvey, with Margate’s QEQM retaining its A&E and maternity services and the Kent and Canterbury downgraded largely to a hub for elective surgery and rehabilitation.
The second would see the multi-million pound hospital built in Canterbury, hosting all specialist services and a major A&E department for 800,000 people across the region, meaning A&Es in Ashford and Margate would close.
Prolific developer Mark Quinn has offered to build the shell of the new hospital in return for planning permission for 2,000 homes on surrounding land, with the NHS covering the costs of equipping the facility.
But Mr Green says “producing a glossy picture doesn’t make the argument for one hospital for the whole of east Kent any better”.
“I have to be quite strong about this,” he told KentOnline this week.
“It doesn’t advance the argument at all and it’s still the case that closing the A&E at the William Harvey would be a terrible idea, not just for people in Ashford but for anyone that would find the William Harvey much easier to access than a hospital in the middle of a residential area in Canterbury.”
Each of the two options would require about £400 million of government funding which has yet to be secured.
Mr Green previously described the ‘super' hospital bid as “mad” and says he will continue to fight for the future of the William Harvey.
He added: “There are two options of either enhancing the existing facilities in east Kent or having one hospital in Canterbury, and I will campaign as strongly as ever that moving A&E facilities from a hospital that’s only 100 yards from the motorway network is ridiculous by any measure.
“The option that retains the William Harvey’s A&E is the best option to go with.”
The two proposals have been on the table since 2017 but progress has been painfully slow, with the snap General Election of that year stalling the initial stages of the project.
And now health authorities say a consultation on the two options has been put on hold because of the Covid pandemic.
Had it gone ahead, the public would have been given a say on what is likely to be a controversial shake-up of hospital services.
Mr Green said: “The consultation is paused at the moment for obvious, sensible reasons while the NHS has got other things to do, but once it starts again I will continue to make the arguments from the Secretary of State downwards.
“Emergency care would be less easy to access for tens of thousands of people in the borough of Ashford and beyond.
“And as I say, no amount of glossy drawings can disguise that fact.”
On KentOnline last week, former Canterbury City Council leader Simon Cook said he believes there is an acceptance behind closed doors that the 'super' hospital is the best option for centralised health services in east Kent.
“Obviously if you were at Ashford council or whatever, you’d be hung, drawn and quartered if you said anything other than ‘the hospital should be in Ashford’,” he said.
“But I think you’ll probably find behind closed doors that people would admit that there is a logic to having it in Canterbury. Nobody is going to say that in public because they all want to be re-elected.
“But there’s a difference to what people say politically, and what they say pragmatically behind closed doors.
“Canterbury is the hub for public transport in east Kent. For example, it’s much more difficult than you’d think to get a bus from Folkestone to Ashford, than it is to get one from Folkestone to Canterbury.
“If you look at the road network, all roads lead to Canterbury. And it makes particular sense because of the universities and medical school here. It all ticks so many boxes.
“A hospital is no good without people to run it, and having a split site has not been helpful in terms of having doctors two days in Thanet and two days in Ashford. People just prefer to work in one place.
“It simply makes sense for that to be in Canterbury.”
But Mr Green said it was an “absurd thing to say”, adding: “I don’t know a single person in Ashford who thinks it’s a good idea to close the A&E at the William Harvey”.
Ashford Borough Council deputy leader Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con) echoed Mr Green’s thoughts.
“It is by no means ‘accepted behind closed doors’ that Canterbury is the best option for the NHS and the east Kent population,” he said.
'People in Charing, Hythe and the surrounding villages will also be affected'
“As chairman of the Kent health and overview committee, it is my role to ensure there is a thorough review of the options and the process adopted by the NHS coming to whatever recommendation it does before considering whether the committee wishes to refer the matter to the Secretary of State, the final decision maker.
“One issue the committee might be expected to consider is the ability of the developer to deliver the hospital shell and core based on a 2,000-home development; viability issues will be considered.
“The county council is expected to require a range of other contributions to infrastructure, such as transport and education, to name just two.
“The committee will need to be confident that delivery is possible. It is too early for any conclusions to be drawn as to what the outcome of the scrutiny process will be.
“It would be unwise for any members to come to any conclusions ‘behind closed doors’ and I, as chairman, confirm that all meetings to discuss will be held in public.
“I am unaware of any comments being made ‘pragmatically behind closed doors’.”
'Public transport to Canterbury from outlying areas takes hours'
Launched in 2018, the Campaign to Save Ashford A&E Facebook page now has more than 2,000 followers.
Susie Govett - a former Folkestone and Hythe district councillor for New Romney - set up the page.
“It’s common sense that a single A&E provision in Canterbury would have a huge effect on journey times for residents who are inconveniently located in the eyes of those supporting this proposal,” she said.
“This is a significant number of people, the populations of Ashford, Tenterden and Romney Marsh is approximately 160,000 people, but people in Charing, Hythe and the surrounding villages will also be affected.
“With the increase in new housing developments everywhere, these populations are rapidly increasing, especially in Ashford.
“Canterbury has a poor road network and is frequently congested.
“Public transport to Canterbury from outlying areas takes hours and is expensive for those requiring follow-up care.”
To follow Ms Govett's page, search for Campaign to Save Ashford A&E on Facebook.
And to sign a petition to save Ashford's A&E, click here