Published: 06:00, 12 October 2020
| Updated: 07:38, 12 October 2020
Some would argue our old hospitals should never have disappeared and while they're still standing be brought back into life to ease the pressure on the NHS.
Others say it's about how the system is designed and that there is enough hospital capacity if we use it smartly.
Whatever your view on the political scale of the health debate, there is no doubt about how the hospitals of Kent have changed and grown.
The county is home to the oldest known hospital site in England – St Bart's Hospital in Rochester – which is one of the many old NHS sites to be sold off for development.
We've taken a look into the archives to look back at some of Kent's hospitals past and present and what the future holds for the ones where operating theatres and wards have closed forever.
Fort Pitt Hospital, Chatham
Originally built as part of the Napoleonic era fortification overlooking Chatham and the River Medway it was used by the army until 1919.
King George V visited the hospital with Queen Mary in October 1914 to see troops injured on the battlefields in the early months of the First World War.
It opened in 1832 and served as a military hospital throughout the Victorian period.
Queen Victoria visited soldiers there three times during the Crimean War and it was selected by Florence Nightingale in 1860 to become the Army Medical School, which moved to Netley near Southampton some three years later.
The school was created in 1916 as the Chatham Institute and moved to the Fort Pitt site in 1929 after the Chatham Education Board purchased the derelict site from the War Office.
The all-girls school was granted grammar status in 1984.
St Bart's Hospital, Rochester
A hospital (of sorts) has been recorded at this site since 1076 when it was initially established to care for lepers and the poor.
Located between Chatham and Rochester, it was the oldest health and hospital site in the entire country – predating the more famous St Bartholomew's Hospital in London by about 50 years.
It was eventually closed down in September 2016.
St Bart's as it once stood and how developers MCR aim to transform it.
The hospital is subject to ambitions plans to be completely renovated and converted into flats.
Developers aim to maintain the listed aspects of the hospital – which in its current guise was built in the late 1850s – including mortuary and water works.
Some 155 homes are planned for the former wards and operating theatres ranging from one to three bedrooms.
Royal Victoria Hospital, Folkestone
As the population expanded during the Victorian era, it was realised greater health needs were required.
Unfortunately, of course for many, the hospitals which formed were charities and the majority could barely afford food let alone expensive health care.
The RVH was built in 1889 and the first wards opened a year later.
RVH as it looks now and what developers envisage for the future (Hollaway)
Services started to be scaled back in the 1970s with more and more functions moving to the larger William Harvey Hospital in Ashford.
The A&E department which was based at the Royal Victoria closed and a minor injuries unit remains there today in newly built accommodation behind the old Victorian structures.
Although a hospital will remain at the site, the derelict original building has fallen into disrepair since closing in 2006.
Despite campaigners from the WI around Folkestone, Hythe and Romney Marsh fighting for it to be reopened and expanded to cope with growing populations and homes around the town, it is now to be redeveloped.
The battle has been lost with the NHS selling up in 2017 and developers were granted permission for 19 homes and 19 apartments around the site last month .
Plans for 18 apartments in the original hospital building were given the green light last December.
The designs propose keeping the Victorian facade.
St Augustine's, Chartham
This hospital built out in the countryside of Chartham Downs near Canterbury originally had the un-PC name of the Kent County Lunatic Asylum.
It opened in 1875 and had the capacity for some 870 patients which featured accommodation, administration blocks, a recreational hall and chapel.
The hospital closed in 1993 and is now used a communal space for the residential development which was built in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
It is still known as the St Augustine's estate and the chapel, main building and water tower still remain.
Ashford Hospital, King's Avenue
Once the main hospital in Ashford way before the William Harvey was even considered, the Ashford Hospital in Kings Avenue was built in the late 1920s thanks to public subscriptions.
King George VI and the Queen Mother – then the Duke and Duchess of York – were on hand to lay the foundation stone at a ceremony on October 20, 1926.
It served the town for more than 65 years with services finally coming to an end in about 1993.
Like the Royal Victoria in Folkestone, the hospital's fate was sealed after the William Harvey was built and services started moving to the larger hospital across town.
And like its Folkestone counterpart, the building has fallen into wrack and ruin since closing down.
Ashford Hospital not long after it opened (Images of Ashford) and how the site looks now
While redevelopment plans have been approved and housing built around the former hospital, it remains untouched and as derelict as ever.
Plans were revealed in 2017 to convert the much-loved building into flats and give it a new lease of life to save it from demolition.
It once carried on all the way towards Chart Road but those blocks have long since disappeared to new housing leaving just the main entrance building standing.
Kent and Canterbury Hospital, Canterbury
One of the county's biggest hospitals and still oldest still used as a hospital, the Kent & Canterbury (K&C) was built in the 1930s with a characterstic white and black modern style.
It opened in 1937 and while the original building remains, it has been subsumed by the huge amounts of development and expansion on the site.
K&C when it opened in the late 1930s and the recent aerial photo (Martin Apps) shows the huge expansion from the 1960s and 1970s
Early pictures show an open and expansive driveway with two columns on Ethelbert Road by the old main entrance.
That vista is now long gone with the hospital sprawling across to the front of the road and towards the south and outskirts of the city.
It was built as a general hospital to replace the city's old hospital in Longport close to St Augustine's Abbey, which has been demolished.
Today it is home to 58 wards and departments including maternity and emergency units.
It joined the NHS when the service formed in 1948 and much of the expansion was built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Much talk surrounds the future of the K&C and whether Canterbury should have a brand new hospital or be downgraded with a super hospital being built or expanded at one of the other East Kent NHS Hospitals Trust sites.
Ashford Cottage Hospital
Once a common sight in many of our villages and towns, the cottage hospital is something almost (with the exception of Faversham) consigned to history.
They were able to cope with medical emergencies in most cases without the patient needing to be taken to the larger county or voluntary hospitals which were much further away, more difficult to reach and often meant the local doctor would not be treating them.
But as transport became easier and populations increased, larger hospitals were built leaving many of these much smaller hospitals obsolete.
Ashford Cottage Hospital c1900 (Images of Ashford) and the current view of the building now used for offices (Google)
The Ashford Cottage Hospital – now called Caxton House – opened in 1869 in a converted house. The building standing today was purpose built in 1877.
It was extended 13 years later and a new wing added in 1915 to meet population growth.
The Ashford Hospital (listed above) was built in 1926 and was a much larger hospital to serve Ashford until the 1990s when the William Harvey Hospital had more than superceded both facilities.
Caxton House has been used as offices since at least the 1970s and is still home to various businesses today.
Faversham Cottage Hospital
Since it was mentioned in the last section, Faversham Cottage Hospital still exists today some 140 years since it opened.
It has 25 beds but not for acute patient needs with many nurses and health care assistants working with patients who need large hospitals for more significant treatment.
The hospital provides rehabilitation care for inpatients with people brought in from their own homes and other outpatient appointments.
The hospital was built in the 1880s with its potential fate reaching the chambers of Parliament in 1981 when then Faversham MP Sir Roger Moate (Con) protested against proposals to close community hospitals like Faversham.
The fight to save the minor injuries unit from closing was won in 2015 thanks to the help of dozens of dogged campaigners.
William Harvey Hospital, Ashford
It's been mentioned a couple of times already but the William Harvey – the main hospital in Ashford for more than 40 years now – has become the main site for care in east Kent.
There were several hospitals in Ashford until the Harvey was built in the 1970s - we've already visited a couple above (Ashford Hospital, Ashford Cottage Hospital) and we'll visit one more in the Willesborough Hospital.
Then and now. William Harvey Hospital in 1980 (Images of Ashford) and 2007 (Countrywide Photographic/Martin Apps). Although taken from different angles the expansion of the hospital is clearly evident as is the additional parking
The huge site at the eastern edge of town in Willesborough area opened finally in 1980 after a long battle about whether a large regional hospital was needed for this part of the county.
Even in the 40 years since opening, the Harvey has expanded several times and also has a new private hospital on site as well as the NHS facilities.
It holds east Kent's main accident and emergency unit and a specialist cardiac unit for people across the county.
The hospital is named after William Harvey, a physician born in Folkestone in 1578 who identified how the human blood circulatory system functions.
The Harvey replaced the 1928 Ashford Hospital which by now had become too small as Ashford began to expand rapidly.
On opening it was a proud boast that there should be ample free car parking space for staff, out-patients and visitors, but it was quickly to become reality that there was not enough and parking charges had to be introduced to try and curb demand.
At the time the hospital opened construction work on the M20 to Folkestone and London was already underway placing the Harvey in an ideal location for many towns and villages in the area.
Although no plans have ever been officially tabled, it has often been suggested the Harvey could be the base for a huge "super-hospital" serving much of east Kent should places like the QEQM in Margate and K&C in Canterbury be downgraded.
NHS bosses continue to debate the future of acute hospitals with the East Kent NHS Foundation Trust one of the largest in the country serving almost 700,000 patients across five hospitals.
As the 2007 colour aerial photograph shows, there is plenty of surrounding land around the Harvey which could be developed further.
Thousands of local babies started their lives in the Victorian buildings of Willesborough Maternity Hospital.
But in January 1982 the three-and-half acre site was sold to developers after environment minister Michael Heseltine overruled a public inquiry inspector and gave the go-ahead for its use as an industrial estate of 42,000 square feet of old and new factory units
Built to replace the old Oakwood Hospital and West Kent Hospital – along with Maidstone's other sites Kent County Ophthalmic Hospital, Preston Hall and Fant Lane – the 1980s hospital has amalgamated many services which used to operate across the town.
Eye patients and the ear, nose and throat services at the Ophthalmic Hospital – built in 1852 – moved to a new £11.3m unit at Maidstone Hospital in 2003.
The Ophthalmic Hospital in Church Street – and just around the corner from the West Kent Hospital in Marsham Street (see below) – is now housing.
Maidstone Hospital was built on greenland adjacent to the former Oakwood Hospital and has been steadily expanded throughout its lifetime so far.
More recently, a new £2m Emergency Care Centre – one of the first of its kind in the country to offer full A&E services, a GP out-of-hours service and a walk-in centre under one roof – opened in 2005
The hospital located in Barming is also home to the specialist Kent Oncology Centre which provides cancer treatment and other oncology services.
Oakwood Hospital, Maidstone
Founded in 1833 as the Kent County Lunatic Asylum, Oakwood Hospital remains a grand old building which was subsumed by the more modern Maidstone Hospital.
Oakwood had 168 residents when the site in Barming Heath opened following a four-year build.
The hospital was expanded three times in 1850, 1867 and 1872 with further asylum blocks.
A devastating fire ripped through the hospital on November 29, 1957 causing the deaths of seven people.
The hospital suffered major damage when the blaze broke out in the tailor's workshop on the first floor.
Firefighters arrived within minutes of the fire starting at 6.40am and 350 patients were evacuated.
The fire had been put out by 8am and recovery works seemed to be going ahead without any problems.
The block was gutted but the 120ft tall ventilation tower appeared to have survived in tact.
But at 10am, it collapsed killing three firefighters, a nurse, the hospital printer and one patient.
Services at the hospital were transferred to the new Maidstone Hospital in the 1980s and Oakwood was referred to as the site's psychiatric wing.
It finally closed in 1994 and is now a housing development after works to convert several Grade-II listed buildings into apartments.
West Kent Hospital, Maidstone
There's very little recorded history about this hospital which was located in Marsham Street.
The hospital, located close to the town centre, was the main hospital for Maidstone until the 1980s when like many other towns, services were merged on to one site.
It was open for more than 150 years until the new Maidstone Hospital opened in Barming.
It has since been redeveloped as a sheltered retirement flats complex, called Hengist Court.
Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, Margate
This hospital is possibly one of the most grand in the county – although it is not the main hospital in Margate anymore – but it remains one of the most impressive and beautiful buildings to have housed one.
The Queen Elizabeth Queen Mother Hospital is Thanet's main hospital and the Royal Sea Bathing site is now a housing development.
It has undergone a chequered history with the site on Margate's seafront falling into major disrepair after it closed in the 1990s.
It wasn't for another decade until a planning application came forward to convert the massive site into luxury apartments.
The hospital is one of the oldest in Kent and was founded in 1791 – with buildings erected between 1793 and 1796 – by John Coakley Lettsom, a Quaker physician who believed the benefits of sunshine, fresh air and sea bathing helped massively in treating diseases.
Patients would often be from the cities and London in particular.
The hospital was a charity and funded by donations from wealthy supporters and treated outpatients as well as inpatients.
The Royal Sea Bathing Hospital, Margate as it was in 2003 and falling to pieces and last year (Google) showing how the development has transformed the 18th century building
Bath nurses would escort patients down to the beach in the hospital's own bathing machine to be fully submerged in the water. The fresh air and food offered by the hospital was also said to be of great help for patients.
The site has since undergone a huge transformation with major developments to convert the listed buildings including Elizabeth Court – the final part of the development closest to the beach.
Medway Maritime Hospital, Gillingham
Originally built as a Royal Naval Hospital in Gillingham at the turn of the 20th century, the hospital cost £800,000 (£62.8m in today's money).
It was opened by King Edward VII in 1905 and boasted a main corridor almost 1,000ft (333 yards) long.
Medway Maritime Hospital when it opened in 1905 and now (picture: Google). Hard to believe it's the same place if it wasn't for the clock tower
The hospital clock tower, still the hospital's major landmark, was built out of funds leftover from the plastering budget for the main hospital. It cost nearly £9,000 in today's money to construct.
Up until 1950, Royal Marines police guarded the entrance with visitors having to show a pass in order to gain entry.
The NHS took over the building from the navy in 1961 and in the following four years underwent a massive £1.5m (£31m) modernisation.
It reopened in 1965 as Medway Hospital.
Since then major work has also been carried out with a new orthopaedic block added in 1970 and elderly and mental health services extended in 1990.
All Saints' Hospital then (1997) and now as a housing estate after it closed down when services moved to the newly expanded Medway Maritime Hospital
The hospital merged services provided at St Bartholomew's in Rochester and All Saints' in Chatham in 1999.
All Saints' was home to one of the Towns' main maternity departments with thousands of babies born there down the years.
After another major overhaul costing £60m, the hospital had doubled in size and was renamed Medway Maritime Hospital, which it remains to this day, in honour of the town's proud links to the Royal Navy.