Campaigners are calling for east Kent to be treated as a “special case” in the face of significant delays to a hospitals shake-up.
A public consultation on the proposals, which would either see a new super hospital built in Canterbury or emergency care centralised in Ashford and Margate, is now likely to take place in 2020 at the earliest.
Meanwhile, the costs of both options has soared to £302m and £225m respectively, up from £250m and £160m when the plans were first put forward in 2017.
The delays are partially down to new NHS rules which require funding to be in place for each of the options before they can be put to the public, which is unlikely before the next national spending review in autumn 2019.
A proposed new timetable also reveals that a pre-consultation business case is not due to be submitted to NHS England before December.
Ken Rogers, chairman of Concern for Health in East Kent (Chek), says any further delay to much-needed improvements to emergency care, which were originally due for consultation last year, is “disappointing”.
“Every delay in doing something will cost more money in the end, because costs will go up. They need to get on with it as quickly as they possibly can,” he said. “Patients are not going to get improved services until option one or two is chosen. We are still going to have long A&E waits and we are still going to have a lack of staff.”
The east Kent clinical commissioning groups, which are leading the reorganisation, say no new consultation date has been set.
In an effort to speed up the process, Mr Rogers is planning to write personally to health secretary Matt Hancock highlighting the urgent need to secure new funding, a matter he says it particularly pressing because developer Quinn Estates has offered to build the “shell” of a new hospital in Canterbury, significantly reducing the costs of the project.
“I will be putting the pressure on the government to find the money,” he continued.
“We have been waiting long enough and we have a situation which is untenable. We need to be seen as a special case, otherwise we can’t move forward.”
Caroline Selkirk, managing director of the four clinical commissioning groups in east Kent, said: “The two options we are developing to improve NHS services in east Kent, both in and out of hospital, require a significant amount of investment which we are seeking from central NHS funding.
“Cost for both options increased since November 2017 as a result of a change to public sector construction cost indices.
“Nationally the NHS recognises the need for significant investment to improve local services for patients. We are working closely with them to agree a timeline for public consultation.
“In the meantime, we are working hard to further develop our business case for submission to NHS nationally in readiness for the next capital funding round.”
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