Published: 09:36, 01 October 2019
| Updated: 20:09, 01 October 2019
Boris Johnson says one of 40 “new hospitals” the government plans to build will be in Canterbury.
The Prime Minister's shock announcement was made at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party Conference yesterday.
Boris Johnson makes Canterbury hospital announcement at Conservative Party Conference
The commitment comes as a surprise – as the Kent & Canterbury does not feature on a new list of hospital projects earmarked by the government.
But footage of Mr Johnson's speech captures him saying: “Yes, we are going to invest in the south east. Yes, of course we are putting money into hospitals.
“I’m delighted that Canterbury, for instance, is going to be one of the 40 new hospitals we are building – in the biggest programme of hospital infrastructure investment for a generation.”
Labour MP Rosie Duffield says she is hopeful this is a "genuine announcement" and has contacted Number 10 to clarify when the funding will be released.
And Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth has also questioned whether the government is "making things up as [they] go along just to win votes".
Ashford MP Damian Green has attempted to "clear up any confusion" by tweeting that the government "recognises that all three East Kent sites need improvement".
He said the East Kent Hospitals trust "is encouraged to bid into the second round of funding announced this week, for building in 2025-30."
At the weekend, Health Secretary Matt Hancock pledged £13bn to be spent across England for entirely new hospital buildings or upgrading existing sites to improve facilities.
The same pot of cash will be used to develop plans for further projects in the future.
But the East Kent Hospitals trust is not included in the Department for Health's current list - and also failed to feature in a previous announcement of capital projects earmarked for a share of £1.8bn in August.
Two options are on the table - one to have specialist services and a major trauma unit in Ashford, and the other to centralise east Kent hospital care with a sole A&E centre in Canterbury.
Responding to Mr Johnson's comments, Ms Duffield said: “As this has not been formally announced, my office has contacted Number 10 to clarify when the funding for the Canterbury hospital I have long-campaigned for will be released. I am hopeful this is a genuine announcement and not something said in haste at a conference fringe event.
"As the hospital reconfiguration plans have not yet gone to public consultation, there will also be many members of the public in wider East Kent surprised by the Prime Minister’s announcement – which will be news to those here who make the decisions about East Kent's health provision.”
Developer Mark Quinn 18 months ago offered to build the shell of a hospital in return for permission for 2,000 homes - but more money will be needed to kit it out.
Mr Quinn told KentOnline he was surprised by the Prime Minister's announcement.
"But as we have always said it makes perfect sense to have main hospital in Canterbury which is most central to east Kent," he said.
"I would simply say that we are cautiously optimistic it will happen and we, as a developer, and the land owner remain ready to deliver."
Mr Quinn says the cost of building the shell will be up to £140 million including car parking and the arrangement will include land for building of 2,000 homes.
He has already said the shell would be built before work starts on the homes.
In August, Canterbury Conservative parliamentary candidate Anna Firth and Faversham MP Helen Whately said they were teaming up to convince the Prime Minister to back the "super hospital" bid.
And at the party conference this week, Ms Firth said she had persuaded the Health Secretary to visit the constituency and discuss further the "urgent need" to upgrade the hospital.
Mr Green has previously described the Canterbury proposals as "mad".
But outgoing Kent County Council leader Paul Carter last week described the current Kent & Canterbury Hospital as "unfit for purpose".
Speaking at a meeting of the health reform and public health cabinet committee, the Tory said: "We need to use every trick in the book and piece of innovation to try and make sure the new hospital happens.
"I can assure you there is an enormous amount of work going on behind the scenes to facilitate the building of a new hospital."
Ms Firth says she is delighted the Prime Minister "recognises the need for a new hospital in Canterbury".
"I have been working hard on this while up here in Manchester," she said. "I have spoken to Matt Hancock and I am continuing to work with Kent MPs to get more investment in the East Kent NHS trust to make this happen."
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed investment in a new hospital building at Canterbury - but warned it would be the wrong location to centralise services.
He said: “While the quality of medicine at the Kent and Canterbury hospital is excellent, the estate is dilapidated and no longer fit for purpose.
"I welcome investment in a new building to replace the existing premises that are currently used by very many of my constituents and indeed by myself.
"This does not, however, represent a proposal for a new ‘super hospital’ centralising services which, if ever constructed, would need to be at a different and geographically better transport location to serve the whole of East Kent."
Mr Green tweeted: "The Government recognises that all three East Kent sites need improvement, and the Trust is encouraged to bid into the second round of funding announced this week, for building in 2025-30. Good news for all East Kent hospitals.
"Which services go where in the hospitals will be subject to public consultation. I am sure this consultation will show that the main A&E should remain in Ashford."
Ken Rogers, chair of the Concern for Health in East Kent (CHEK) group which has been campaigning for a new Canterbury hospital, said it was "absolutely brilliant news for Canterbury and everyone in East Kent".
He said that Mr Johnson's announcement did not "pre-empt" the outcome of the consultation on where health services in East Kent should be located.
But Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt of campaign group Save Our NHS In Kent (SONIK) said: “This announcement looks like it will spell disaster for Margate’s QEQM hospital and for Thanet.
"We must fight to keep A&E at QEQM, and to ensure that maternity consultants aren't robbed from QEQM to be moved elsewhere.
"Thanet is an area of deprivation and needs these time-critical services, or lives will be put at risk."
Fellow SONIK member Carly Jeffrey fears the plan will result in "cuts" at Ashford and Margate.
Canterbury City Council leader Rob Thomas said the authority "welcomes any government announcement which supports our ambition of a new build hospital here in Canterbury."
He added: "We'll continue to press our case for NHS England to approve the plans. Our campaign has been ongoing for a long time and it's gathering pace with initiatives such as the medical school with the universities.
"The city and county councils will play a vital role in securing the new hospital. We'll be banging the drum for the health services residents want and need."
The East Kent Hospitals trust said enquiries should be referred to the Department for Health.
KentOnline has approached the Department for Health and the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Partnership for comment.
Sources said the second of the project, aiming to deliver between 2025 and 2030, will include 21 new projects - delivering 34 new hospitals - that will receive seed funding to kick start their schemes.
Other potential projects would also be able to bid into this wave.
They added the Prime Minister and Health Secretary recognise the challenges facing acute services in East Kent including Canterbury, and the Department for Health and Social Care would consider this and other bids in future hospital building rounds.
More by this authorPhil Hayes