Published: 14:45, 22 July 2021
| Updated: 14:47, 22 July 2021
Hospital travel arrangements for north Kent patients seeking eye care must be improved, say councillors.
Hundreds of residents using the ophthalmology unit at Dartford's Darent Valley Hospital were transferred to a new site in Gillingham 11 months ago.
It is being run by clinicians from Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust.
It comes after London private contractor, Moorfields, withdrew from running ophthalmology services at Darent Valley in February 2020 amid pressures caused by the first wave of Covid and lack of "financial viability".
Ophthalmologists diagnose, treat and prevent disorders of the visual system.
Cataract surgery, which represents the majority of treatments affected by the transfer, are being carried out from an "independent sector" site in Gillingham, which has extra theatre capacity and more staff.
This has reduced the risk of operations being cancelled amid the pandemic.
Patients are being seen based upon urgent need as a long-term solution is sought by the Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG).
Yesterday, county and district councillors urged the authority to improve travel arrangements for patients living in Dartford, Swanley and Gravesham, such as by introducing cheaper bus rides.
Cllr Shane Mochrie-Cox (Lab), Gravesham council's cabinet member for community, said: "Getting to this end of the world, unless you drive, is very costly and time consuming. It is difficult to get to."
His comments were made during a hybrid meeting involving 16 councillors and several NHS staff at Sessions House, County Hall, Maidstone.
Swanley county councillor Perry Cole (Con) welcomed the temporary change, but urged for a future solution to be found about better travel arrangements, particularly for low-income households.
He said: "Swanley is an even longer journey to travel to Gillingham."
David Peck, the director of Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley integrated care partnership at the Kent and Medway CCG, said travel options were being considered for the most vulnerable patients.
Mr Peck said: "It is a challenge but we remain committed to rapidly identifying a site that can provide services to affected residents."
The KCC committee deemed the proposed changes to not be substantial, allowing the NHS to continue with its search to find a replacement provider.
A meeting has next been scheduled for September 16.