A mothballed 24-bed ward at Sheppey Community Hospital is poised to get a new lease of life in a long-overdue health shake-up for the Island.
Medway NHS Foundation Trust is to take over the space to create a "frailty ward" to free up beds for operations at its Medway Maritime Hospital – 15 miles away in Gillingham.
The news comes hard on the heels of the recent announcement that Islanders are to get their own MIR scanner as part of a new Community Diagnostic Centre (CDC).
The hospital in Plover Road, Minster, has already replaced its Minor Injuries Unit with an upgraded Urgent Care Centre.
Minster Ward has been out of action for at least six years after health bosses said there was not enough demand to keep it open.
Now the Medway Foundation Trust, working with NHS Kent and Medway and Medway and Swale Health and Care Partnership, is to bring it back online.
It will be staffed by the trust and will be primarily used by Swale patients so they can be looked after nearer their homes.
MP Gordon Henderson (Con) said: "This is fantastic news. It is something I have been pressing for for a number of years."
Funding has been agreed by NHS England through the new Integrated Care Board. The trust says it is consulting staff with the aim of opening the ward by the end of the year in time to cope with the expected winter pressures.
The ward was originally prepared for reopening during the Covid-19 pandemic. Its sister Harty Ward, run by HCRG Care Services which took over from Virgin Care, is for rehabilitation.
The trust says waiting times for planned surgery will be reduced and cancer patients will get treatment more quickly at Medway once the new ward is up and running.
Last month the Department for Health and Social Care gave the green light to create a CDC hub at the Sheppey hospital and a smaller "spoke" site at the Rochester Healthy Living Centre.
Work is to begin in the spring with new services including CT scans, MRIs and ECGs being introduced over the next two years leading to a seven-day, 12-hour-a-day service by 2025.
Swale and Medway have some of the highest levels of deprivation in the UK. Increased diagnostic capacity including equipment and staff is expected to reduce health inequalities and improve waiting lists.
According to NHS figures, for every mile travelled between Sittingbourne (Woodstock Ward) and Sheppey (Sheppey West Ward), life expectancy reduces by 255 days. So someone living on the Island can expect to live 8.3 years less than a person on the mainland.
Nikki Teesdale, the director of delivery at the Medway and Swale Health and Care Partnership, said: “CDCs will bring together the latest diagnostic equipment and expertise and complement work to improve cancer screening programmes, improving early diagnosis and clinical outcomes.”