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Funding bids rejected for Canterbury ‘super’ hospital or upgrades to William Harvey in Ashford and QEQM in Margate

Dreams of a new ‘super’ hospital in Kent have been dashed after a bid for funding was snubbed by the government.

The East Kent Hospitals Trust had applied for £460 million for two potential options – either concentrating services at a new state-of-the art build in Canterbury or upgrading existing facilities in Ashford and Margate.

CGI showing plans for the new ‘super’ hospital in Canterbury, which have been snubbed after East Kent Hospitals Trust was denied £460m funding from the government
CGI showing plans for the new ‘super’ hospital in Canterbury, which have been snubbed after East Kent Hospitals Trust was denied £460m funding from the government

But the bid has failed to make the Department of Health and Social Care’s (DHSC) shortlist of 40 new-build projects in a decision described as a “devastating blow” for patients and staff.

Also missing out is the bid by Medway NHS Foundation Trust, which had applied for cash for new buildings.

East Kent Hospitals had been due to launch a public consultation on the two options – but that has now been shelved.

Hopes were raised that Canterbury would get a new hospital after then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in 2019 that one would be built.

He had been speaking at a fringe meeting at the Conservative Party conference and it was later confirmed he had “clearly made a mistake”.

This week East Kent Hospitals chairman Niall Dickson said it was “extremely disappointing” that the Trust has “been denied critical investment”.

“Every pound spent fixing ageing buildings and equipment is better invested in improving standards for patients,” he said.

Worryingly, at least £210m is needed for essential improvements to east Kent’s hospitals over the next five years – just to maintain safe services.

Mr Dickson says the Trust will work with staff, public, politcians and partners in health and social care to draw up a set of priorities for investment and continue to maximise future funding opportunities.

Ken Rogers, of Concern for Health in East Kent, says the area has “lost out big time”.

Canterbury hospital campaigner Ken Rogers
Canterbury hospital campaigner Ken Rogers

“It’s a devastating blow for patients and staff and I feel sorry for the Trust who we have battled alongside to try and get this vital funding.”

He added: “We have big problems and I am afraid they are only going to get worse as demand on the service increases”.

Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield branded the snub “deeply frustrating and disappointing”.

“It’s now four years since Boris Johnson promised a new hospital for Canterbury. One general election, two Prime Ministers, and four health secretaries later, we are further from delivery than ever.

“It is deeply frustrating and disappointing that the government has ignored the repeated bids for this critical capital investment into our local health services.

Canterbury’s Labour MP Rosie Duffield
Canterbury’s Labour MP Rosie Duffield

“People in east Kent expect and deserve a high-quality NHS fit for the 21st century. Instead, they are having to settle for pre-war infrastructure and services split across several sites.

“We need the best long-term decision for east Kent, based on what the medical experts say would result in the best health outcomes, with care delivered as close to people’s homes as possible.

“That is why I still firmly believe that Canterbury is the best location for a large new hospital, and I will continue to press the government to understand that and unlock the funding that we desperately need.”

But Ashford MP Damian Green says it is now “perfectly clear the so-called super hospital is no longer on the agenda”.

“What matters now, as Niall Dickson says, is to maximise investment into the existing hospitals, including the William Harvey in Ashford, so that we get better patient care.

Ashford’s Conservative MP Damian Green
Ashford’s Conservative MP Damian Green

“In the last year we have seen the opening of a new emergency department at the William Harvey, and in recent weeks a new children’s emergency department.

“Healthcare for everyone in east Kent will be better for these investments, and we need to see more in the future. I look forward to working with the hospital trust to make this happen.”

The £460m funding bid to transform emergency care in the east of the county was made to the DHSC in October 2021.

The cash would have come from a £3.7 billion pot which the government has set aside to deliver 40 “new” hospitals across England by 2030.

A decision on Kent's submission was expected in the spring of 2022. However, the government delayed making a final verdict due to the Covid pandemic.

The Kent and Canterbury Hospital was officially opened in 1937
The Kent and Canterbury Hospital was officially opened in 1937

The "super" hospital proposal would have seen a more modern facility built on farmland next to the ageing Kent and Canterbury Hospital, in Ethelbert Road. The present site dates back to 1937.

Developer Quinn Estates was set to build the shell of the hospital for free as part of a wider housing development of 2,000 homes on surrounding land, with the NHS having to find the money to equip it.

But neither the Canterbury hospital scheme nor upgrades to the William Harvey and QEQM feature on the DHSC’s “new hospital programme” funding list.

A report by the National Audit Office (NAO) reveals East Kent Hospitals and Medway had been on an initial list of 20 schemes included in the government’s previous “health infrastructure plan” (HIP).

However, when the HIP schemes were announced in 2019, seven of the projects no longer featured, including the two in Kent.

The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford
The William Harvey Hospital in Ashford

“Officials have told us that the final selection of schemes involved choices and judgements for which no further documentation is available,” the NAO report says.

“Given the amount of taxpayers’ money involved, this is a failure in record keeping and means we cannot determine how the schemes were selected for this significant investment.”

The NAO says this had a direct impact on the 40 projects selected for “new hospital programme” (NHP) this year.

Another factor in drawing up the priority list was concerns emerging in 2018 over the use of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC) in the construction of hospitals between the 1960s and 1980s.

The QEQM Hospital in Margate
The QEQM Hospital in Margate

This resulted in five extra sites built using RAAC being prioritised for the NHP.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “The NAO’s report acknowledges that despite changes to the original programme to prioritise hospitals affected by RAAC, 40 new hospitals will still be delivered by 2030, and praises the programme’s innovative plans to standardise hospital construction, deliver efficiencies and improve quality.

“We remain firmly committed to delivering these hospitals, which are now expected to be backed by over £20 billion of investment – helping to cut waiting lists so people can get the treatment they need quicker.

“Three new hospitals have already opened and more will open this year so patients and staff can benefit from major new hospital buildings, equipped with the latest technology.”

Despite missing out on the £460m, East Kent Hospitals has received smaller amounts of targeted funding for all three acute hospitals in recent years including:

  • £30 million for a major expansion of the emergency departments at the QEQM and William Harvey hospitals
  • Nearly £5 million for the Kent Interventional Radiology Centre at Kent and Canterbury Hospital (opened in stages during 2022-23)
  • £14 million to build a new 24 bed critical care unit at William Harvey Hospital (opened 2022)
  • £14 million to build a new surgical centre at Kent and Canterbury Hospital (opened 2021)
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