Published: 10:28, 21 March 2017
Hundreds of emergency patients destined for the Kent and Canterbury hospital each week will be diverted elsewhere as it faces losing most of its junior doctors.
The troubled hospital will see its urgent care service scaled back drastically, forcing heart attack and stroke patients to be taken by ambulance to Ashford or Margate.
It follows a recommendation today from Health Education England (HEE) to pull trainee medics from the city site.
Inspectors from HEE visited K&C on March 8 and have revealed this week that junior doctors are inadequately supervised because of a shortage of permanent consultants.
It has recommended 42 of the 76 trainees there be moved to Ashford’s William Harvey and the QEQM in Margate.
Heart attack and stroke patients in Canterbury will be taken to A&E departments at one of the two sister hospitals, with a quarter of urgent care centre patients diverted each day.
Billed as temporary, the changes were predicted to be on the cards as early as January with staff telling KentOnline of the ongoing struggles.
The K&C’s urgent care centre was said to be on the brink of closure, which was denied by east Kent health trust chief executive Matthew Kershaw.
Today, however, he admitted temporary changes will be made as the trust works towards what he calls a “sustainable solution”.
“As a teaching trust, we are committed to providing high-quality training and we will respond to any recommendations positively because we know that is best for both our junior doctors and for our patients,” he said.
“Keeping patients safe and properly looked after is our top priority.
“We know the hospital is safe now, but we are making careful plans for what we now have to do in the best interest of patients.
“We are taking temporary steps so that we can continue to provide safe, high-quality care for our patients and improve the quality of our medical training.
"We have always been very clear that junior doctors must be provided with appropriate levels of supervision from senior doctors at all times" - Julie Screaton, HEE
“Over the next two to three months we will need to temporarily combine a limited number of services at the Kent and Canterbury with those at our hospitals at Ashford and Margate while we work on a sustainable solution.
“We are committed to making sure as many patients as possible can still be cared for in Canterbury.
Patient appointments and procedure would still go ahead.
HEE regional director for London and the South East, Julie Screaton, said: “HEE has informed the trust that the current levels of consultant supervision of junior doctors at the UCC at Kent and Canterbury are inadequate for their education and training.
“The lack of consultant cover meant that trainees were not adequately supported in their clinical practice and were consequently unable to receive the education and training for which they were placed in the trust.
“We have always been very clear that junior doctors must be provided with appropriate levels of supervision from senior doctors at all times.”
“Junior doctors provide a service to the NHS Trust that they work within, however, there is also a clear requirement that they are provided with education and training.”
HEE will be working with the trust and other agencies to ensure the changes do not put patients at risk.
The trust says the changes will not be made immediately to allow it time to “develop its plans and test them to make sure patients will be safe and well looked after”.
They are likely to affect about 50 of the 900 patients who attend the K&C each day - 30 of them at the urgent care centre.
Inpatient medical services will be affected, including those used by heart attack and stroke patients and some elderly patients with serious illnesses like pneumonia.
Surgical, chemotherapy, renal, vascular and urology services, as well as all outpatient clinics, will remain unchanged.
An independent review of the proposals and effect on patients safety will be carried out.
The trust says patients from the Canterbury area who are taken by ambulance to Ashford or Margate will be transferred to the K&C as soon as possible.
It has written to all inpatients at the K&C to reassure them there will be no immediate impact on their care.
Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately said she was "deeply disappointed" by the news.
She said: "Clearly it’s not acceptable for junior doctors to be asked to train without appropriate supervision and I understand that means changes to some urgent care services at the hospital, with patients now being taken to Ashford or Margate instead.
"These are temporary changes, and I would be very concerned if they were to become permanent. The trust chief executive has assured me they will continue their efforts to recruit the consultants needed.
"It’s now more important than ever that the plans for future healthcare in Kent include the option of a new major hospital in Canterbury and a medical school.
"We need an ambitious vision with gravitational pull to attracted talented medics, and make Kent a centre of excellence for healthcare."