Published: 14:17, 21 November 2019
| Updated: 09:43, 22 November 2019
The Health Secretary has paid a surprise visit to the Kent and Canterbury Hospital - and admitted the site is in need of investment.
Matt Hancock today said the "very old" facility in Ethelbert Road, Canterbury, "clearly needs work".
"This hospital is on the up - but is also very old and it clearly needs work," said Mr Hancock.
"There will be investment going into this hospital if the Conservatives are returned to office.
"It is absolutely crystal clear to me as Health Secretary that this hospital needs investment, and is going to get investment. There will be investment into all of the hospitals in east Kent."
The Health Secretary says the K&C is "earmarked" for a new CT scanner, while QEQM hospital in Margate is set to get a new MRI scanner.
"These are just examples of the sort of investment we are going to see on a much bigger scale if we are returned to office," he added.
He was challenged on claims by Boris Johnson last month that Canterbury would be getting a new hospital - despite not being on a list of 40 hospital projects recently earmarked by the government.
Canterbury's Conservative parliamentary candidate Anna Firth, who joined Mr Hancock on the visit, previously conceded that her party leader had "clearly made a mistake".
Mr Hancock responded: "There will be further investment.
"It was very clear when we set out the list of 40 hospitals, six getting the money immediately, further 34 projects that are being worked up, we also said that we are open to putting more on that list.
"I've come here to make it clear that we're proposing to put investment into this hospital."
But Mr Hancock was unable to put a figure on the investment.
"We have to have that public consultation to make sure the details are right, but we're absolutely clear about the importance of investment in our NHS, including here in Canterbury, and other east Kent hospital sites," he said.
Mr Hancock's admission that the hospital, built in 1937, requires work comes after figures published last year revealed the site is sitting on an £8.1m backlog of "high-risk" repairs.
His visit comes as top clinicians are considering a huge reshuffle of services at the Kent & Canterbury, William Harvey in Ashford, and QEQM in Margate.
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.
KentOnline previously revealed a new super hospital in Canterbury would cost almost half-a-billion pounds to deliver.
The NHS would need to spend £302 million kitting out the new-build, while developer Mark Quinn would cover the £140 million cost of constructing the hospital shell.
Speaking after Mr Hancock's visit Mrs Firth, who has made delivering improvements at the K&C her "number one campaign priority", said: "Hearing [Mr Hancock] actually say and commit to that investment in the K&C is just fantastic news for residents.
"This is the number one issue people raise with me on the doorsteps.
"It's the Kent hospital that's most in need of investment. The doctors and nurses are absolutely fantastic, but the facilities need upgrading. Now the Health Secretary has seen with his own eyes that it's long overdue and we're going to change it.
"This is a hospital which the Prime Minister wants to invest in, and as the Health Secretary has explained this is now going to be in the very next tranche of investments.
"We now can all rest assured that we are finally going to get that investment, and I'm absolutely delighted I got the Health Secretary to come here today and that we've now got that on the record. And if I'm lucky enough to be MP I will be holding his feet to the fire, and holding the government to account."
Responding to the visit, Labour candidate and former MP Rosie Duffield said she "doesn't believe" Mr Hancock's claims.
"The Tory government has been driving this process of austerity and this destruction of the NHS. If you get a Tory MP in this area, it's just going to be more of the same," she said.
"We've watched destruction of the NHS for the last 10 years - why are they promising this every time there's an election?
"I will fight for this hospital every minute I possible can, as a Labour MP who wants to invest in the NHS.
"People are really bothered about it. It's our local hospital. I use this hospital.
"It's about my real life, not just campaigning for somewhere I don't know about. It's very important."
Claire Malcomson, Lib Dem candidate for Canterbury and Whitstable, echoed Ms Duffield's concerns.
She said: "Local people have been repeatedly let down by Conservatives pretending to support a new hospital in Canterbury.
"Boris Johnson has already been caught out making fake promises about Canterbury, and none of the recently announced funding will be heading here.
"In more than 10 years, our former MP Julian Brazier failed to raise the issue in Parliament even once, and our NHS will be one of the first casualties of a catastrophic Boris Brexit.
"My message to local residents is: don’t vote Tory if you want a new hospital in Canterbury."
Independent candidate Michael Gould has been approached for a comment.
Mr Hancock also paid a visit to Wainscott in Rochester this morning, where he met fellow Tory Kelly Tolhurst.
More to follow.