Published: 11:22, 22 February 2021
| Updated: 11:54, 22 February 2021
The delay on a decision whether to move A&E even further from Romney Marsh as part of plans to reshuffle east Kent's three hospitals has been criticised.
Currently, residents on the Marsh have to travel to Ashford's William Harvey Hospital for the accident and emergency department - which is 17 miles from New Romney.
But since 2017, health chiefs have been exploring two options as they look to transform healthcare in east Kent.
The first would see all specialist services move to the William Harvey, with Margate's QEQM retaining its A&E and maternity services and the Kent and Canterbury downgraded largely to a hub for elective surgery and rehabilitation.
And the second would see a new state-of-the-art 'super' hospital built in Canterbury, hosting all specialist services and a major A&E department for 800,000 people across the region, meaning Ashford's would close.
An eye-catching image was released last week showing what the new hospital would look like.
Developer Mark Quinn has offered to build the shell of the new hospital in return for planning permission for 2,000 homes on surrounding land, with the NHS covering the costs of equipping the facility.
A consultation over the plans has been delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, bosses say.
Cllr David Wimble (Ind), Folkestone and Hythe District Council member for New Romney ward, criticised this delay and said "uncertainly breads speculation".
He added: "Whatever way the panel go with this decision, we need to know.
"The government have a duty of care to protect us and if putting people in a critical risk by moving away the A&E facility and crucial care, then they are not doing this.
"Setting up a major new hospital at Canterbury will have a knock on effect to local residents who already think they have the short end of the stick, with local doctors surgeries closing.
"The only thing that might mitigate this would be if we then got the go ahead for our Community Health Hub in New Romney which could feature some of the A&E facilities that would be lost, including the ability for overnight stays."
Cllr Tony Hills (Con), Kent County Council (KCC) member for the Marsh, also criticised the delay on the decision, adding it has been a "long slow burn".
He added: "I have been attending meetings about this. It would be stupid to take A&E away from Ashford. I'm very against it. It just wouldn't work.
"It might be quicker to go to Hastings than Canterbury."
Tony Cooper, chair of the Ashford and Romney Marsh Breathe Easy group, said the proposals should be dropped immediately.
He said: "Given the delay and the pandemic we feel any information relied upon to push option two may be out of date. Especially when considering the increased national debt due to the pandemic, there is no guarantee funding would be available to fully equip a new hospital.
"What would happen if, for example, the developer was to go bust halfway through the build."
Mr Cooper added: "The NHS should invest in providing better health services to the population of the Romney Marsh.
"Services which I would add, are also delivered locally and from here on the Marsh and not elsewhere.
"I believe the William Harvey serves the whole of the M20 and is a major trauma unit which has, and continues to, save lives of those involved in Motoway and other road traffic collisions.
"One has to wonder how many additional lives would be lost if it was moved away from Ashford."