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Margate hospital campaigner speaks out over plans to close East Kent A&E departments

A Margate campaigner has spoken out against the possibility of all accident and emergency services across East Kent moving to Canterbury.

A report to hospital directors suggests there is a pressing financial and clinical need to reorganise the emergency services at its sites in Canterbury, Ashford and Margate and Canterbury is the most likely choice due to its central location.

QEQM Hospital, Margate
QEQM Hospital, Margate

Betty Renz set up the Thanet Action for Trauma Emergencies group (TATE) to protest against changes to emergency services at the Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother hospital (QEQM) in December 2011 and has been campaigning ever since.

She said: “This is so wrong, we are being fobbed off and told lies all the time.

“Many services have already been taken out of Thanet to be dealt with at the interim unit at the William Harvey in Ashford - this failed to take into account the constitution of the NHS and is why we set up the group. Now the problem is being made worse.

“Making people in a deprived area pay more money to get their health service is absolutely disgraceful - areas with a lower living standard should be given more consideration.

“There needs to be a review of the whole situation before it is allowed to go ahead - I have seen ambulances with blue lights stopped at the Sturry railway crossing and this would happen a lot more with vehicles coming in from across East Kent - there would need to be a new main road.”

Mrs Renz presented a petition with 1,989 signatures to Thanet Clinical Commissioning Group and Thanet District Council in December 2013.

She said the battle to keep emergency care at the QEQM had been a struggle and services had been disappearing under the radar.

She added: “We are already outside the specification of being within a 45-minute journey of a trauma unit and ambulance services themselves say this.

“This is so wrong because with three million visitors last year and Dreamland opening this year - these visitors will have no idea that they will not be taken to the QEQM.

“We keep discovering things which reveal dishonesty - I spoke to one consultant who told me there were no jobs available when he looked at coming to Margate.

“We have already lost services at the QEQM with no ear, nose or throat surgeon and the dental department moved to Canterbury last year, this move has been deliberately kept below the radar while the people in charge pretend to keep the QEQM up and running.”

East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust is due to start a public consultation into the restructuring as early as September.

If a new hospital in Canterbury was built the QEQM would most likely be reclassified as an urgent care centre.

The trust started considering a move to a single emergency hospital in January 2014.

The report before directors states: “These changes are needed to address the significant workforce, quality and financial challenges facing the trust currently which are expected to worsen unless service reconfiguration takes place.”

Rachel Jones, the trust’s director of strategy and business development, added this week: “We are currently engaging staff and with external partners, including the public, in developing a five- to 10-year clinical strategy.

“We are considering a number of options to establish their clinical and financial viability, including a high risk and emergency hospital supported by base hospitals.

“No final decision has been made and we expect to clarify the options and undertake a public consultation later this year.”

The trust’s corporate plan, published a week ago, also shows that there is an £7.5 million deficit between its income and expenditure.

This comes despite it hoping to enter the new financial year with a surplus of £3.5 million.

Chief executive Chris Bown said: “The trust set itself a challenging savings and efficiency plan for 2014/15 of £26.8m.

“While we achieved £19.3m of this, it left a shortfall of £7.5m. This has also been compounded by a prolonged period of emergency pressures on our hospitals which has required us to spend significantly higher than expected on agency nurses and doctors to ensure our services remain safe.

“We are now establishing a financial recovery plan to ensure the Trust returns to a financially viable position as soon as we can, however patients will of course remain central to everything we do.”

But Unison, the UK’s second largest union which acts for 1.3 million mostly public sector workers, has denounced the idea.

Simon Bolton, its regional organiser for health in Kent, said: “We would oppose it. East Kent needs both A&Es not just one and we think people in east Kent will be amazed to learn they’re even proposing it.

“Given the geography, it would create huge problems in terms of ambulance response times and patient safety. It would be a disaster waiting to happen. It’s a mad plan and it’s never going to work in a million years.”

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