Published: 10:09, 13 February 2020
| Updated: 10:11, 13 February 2020
Additional reporting by Tom Pyman
Hundreds of patients who undergo a type of planned surgery at Maidstone Hospital will soon have to travel to Tunbridge Wells instead.
Complex gastrointestinal ops, which treat diseases of the digestive system, such as the stomach and oesophagus, will no longer be carried out at the Hermitage Lane hospital.
Instead around 600 patients a year will, from next month, be sent to Pembury, 14 miles away, which is already responsible for emergency complex surgery for 5,700 patients annually across west Kent.
Safety concerns and staff shortages have prompted the ‘urgent’ reform.
Dr Greg Lawton, of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust, said: “If we do not reconfigure, we won’t have a surgical service.”
The complex surgery was originally split between the two hospitals when Tunbridge Wells’ Pembury site opened in 2011 - both dealt with upper and lower gastrointestinal surgery. But, in 2013, the trust decided upper gastrointestinal surgery would no be longer provided at Maidstone.
Several issues surfaced as a result, including interruptions in continuity of care for patients and increased demand for specialist staff, with recruitment gaps not being met due to the fragmented nature of the service.
Speaking at a meeting of Kent County Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee, Dr Lawton said: “The service should never have been configured in this way. That was a mistake in 2011.”
Cllr Paul Bartlett (Con), the committee chairman, said: “It’s only 14 miles away, but it takes around 45 minutes. It’s not an easy journey and creates difficulties for staff.”
Around 32,000 patients undergo general surgery at Maidstone Hospital a year and a spokeswoman from the trust insisted this would not change as a result of the shake-up.
These include hernia operations, endoscopic procedures and gall bladder removals.
“Providing the very highest standards of clinical and patient care is our priority focus"
Procedures relating to gynaecology, urology, breast and ear, nose and throat surgery will also still be carried out at both sites, with gynae-oncology remaining exclusive to Maidstone.
The spokeswoman added: “We already carry out all our emergency complex surgery on nearly 6,000 patients every year at Tunbridge Wells Hospital.
"By moving planned complex gastrointestinal surgery, which will be around 600 patients a year, to the same hospital site, we will be able to improve the continuity of care and ensure we have enough specialist staff in one location to treat and care for those patients who have complex health needs.
“The change will also enable us to develop a specialist Digestive Diseases Unit at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, which will be co-designed with our patients.
"We are encouraging our gastrointestinal patients and their families and carers to get involved with this process and share their experiences with us.
“Providing the very highest standards of clinical and patient care is our priority focus and this proposed move will help us make the improvements that are needed.”
More by this authorCiaran Duggan, local democracy reporter