Published: 10:00, 03 December 2018
Leading doctors say radical changes to healthcare in east Kent will not be decided by a referendum like Brexit.
The divisive plans for a shake-up of services at the Kent & Canterbury, William Harvey and QEQM hospitals are in the process of being discussed by residents and patients at a series of consultation events.
The NHS is exploring two options for reconfiguring the three main east Kent hospitals.
The first would see all specialist services move to the William Harvey, with the K&C heavily downgraded, while the second option offers a ‘super hospital’ in Canterbury where there would be a sole A&E department for hundreds of thousands of patients.
But, instead of being decided upon by the public, the final outcome will fall on the heavy shoulders of the chairmen at east Kent’s four clinical commissioning groups, known as CCGs.
In an email to Ashford MP Damian Green, the medical professionals shut down the belief that the most popular of the two options on the table will be chosen, and branded the hopes for a public vote as “misleading and wrong”.
They said: “To suggest that the process is similar to political democratic processes like elections or referendums is a fundamental misunderstanding of public consultation on plans to change NHS services.
“Consultation influences the final proposals, but it does not decide the outcome.
“The four clinical commissioning groups in east Kent are the statutory NHS organisations responsible for making a final decision.
"While some people may disagree with this, they are wrong to suggest that we are not following the correct process.”
Since the full details were revealed in October, a series of public meetings have been held, allowing residents to voice their thoughts on the proposals.
“To suggest that the process is similar to political democratic processes like elections or referendums is a fundamental misunderstanding of public consultation on plans to change NHS services..." - Clinical commissioning group chairmen
Hundreds of people have attended the events, with ambulance travel times, recruitment challenges and the availability of hospital services being the main issues raised.
The key decision-makers continued: “Their [residents’] views will be used to shape the proposals and where they highlight concerns will allow us to consider what can be done to remove or minimise those concerns. But consultation is not a vote.
“We absolutely want to hear people’s views.”
The leading medical professionals - Dr Jihad Malasi, Dr Navin Kumta, Dr Simon Dunn, Dr Jonathan Bryant and hospital trust director Dr Paul Stevens - have also put to bed hopes for a third option.
The Save our NHS in Kent (SONiK) group, which has gained more than 3,400 signatures, has been calling on health chiefs to consider offering A&E services at all three hospitals.
But in their letter to Mr Green MP, the leading doctors said “we cannot put such an option into a public consultation... it has already been considered and ruled out”.
“Doing nothing is not an option, nor is proposing unrealistic options that would not be in the best interests of the residents of east Kent. With complex specialist services it is not possible to have everything at every hospital.”
Statistics used by SONiK claim “mortality could rise by 2.3%” as a result of closing and restructuring emergency departments.
The claim, however, has been debunked by the CCG chairmen, who cite there is no relevant evidence from the 2009-2011 report.
A final decision is expected on the proposals following a last round of public consultation early next year.