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Health chiefs scrap plans to slash 100 hospital beds in east Kent

By Jodie Nesling

Health chiefs in east Kent have scrapped a controversial proposal to slash up to 100 hospital beds, documents have revealed.

The move, which was never made public, was expected to deliver savings of about £11 million in the next financial year, with a memorandum of understanding agreed between the east Kent hospitals trust and local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs).

CCG documents show the proposal was not pursued, sparking speculation of an intervention from NHS England amid concerns over bed closures during the winter.

In 2016-17 East Kent Hospitals had the most last minute elective surgery cancellations, according to NHS England. Picture: Thinkstock
In 2016-17 East Kent Hospitals had the most last minute elective surgery cancellations, according to NHS England. Picture: Thinkstock

The failure to close beds has been highlighted as a key reason for reduced savings in the latest governing body papers for the Canterbury and Coastal CCG.

These show a looming, off-target financial gap for the four east Kent CCGs – increasing from £7 million in September to £18 million in late November.

In June, some services at Kent and Canterbury Hospital were moved to other sites when around half the junior doctors at the hospital were transferred to improve the quality of their training and supervision.

The CCG papers show 100 beds were cleared in the run-up to this but commissioners were concerned the trust “appeared to have increased electives to fill this space”.

Ken Rogers, a former governor at the trust and spokesman for the Concern for Health in East Kent campaign group, said: “If this is not proof that the dire position in east Kent is as a result of trying to save money, then I don’t know what is.

CHEK campaigner Ken Rogers
CHEK campaigner Ken Rogers

“The only way they are going to be able to close beds is by cancelling operations. I don’t think there are any excess beds until they can do more in the community.”

The controversial sustainability and transformation plan for Kent and Medway suggested 300 beds could eventually be lost in east Kent. However, the latest modelling suggests this number may be reduced ahead of a public consultation on reconfiguration proposals next year.

The trust had bed occupancy of around 93.5% for the last half of 2016-17, but on one day this month 95% of its 922 beds were occupied.

Simon Perks, accountable officer for Canterbury and Coastal CCG, said: “We are in discussion with partners and NHS England about how we transform our local NHS to better meet patient needs and make the local NHS more sustainable, including how many costly acute hospital beds will be required in the future.

“These discussions are in a very early stage and will be subject to further consultation.”

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