by Martin Jefferies
Revolutionary new healthcare facilities are planned for Thanet as part of a radical shake-up of local NHS services designed to "break the cycle of inequality" in the area.
The Eastern and Coastal Kent Primary Care Trust is to spend £9million on a new type of GP service, with drop in centres built in Margate and Ramsgate and a mobile van introduced in other neighbourhoods.
The Thanet Community Care Scheme will target people unable or reluctant to access healthcare, including unregistered patients, residents in deprived communities, children and the homeless.
It aims to tackle some of the Isle's most serious health concerns, including acute teenage pregnancy rates, above average numbers of smoking and cancer-related deaths and a high rate of mental illness.
Ann Sutton, chief executive of the NHS trust, said: "The health of people living in Thanet clearly isn’t as good as other parts of Kent and England and we’re determined to address that.
"We want to break this cycle of inequality by investing in additional services for people with the greatest need."
Under the plans, established pharmacists and local charity offices could serve as 'satellite’ surgeries, offering services such as family planning, cervical, chlamydia and diabetes screening and advice on healthy eating.
The planned reform has divided opinion, particularly among Thanet’s two MPs who have failed to see eye-to-eye on the subject of 'convenient’ healthcare in the past.
Dr Stephen Ladyman, MP for South Thanet, described Tuesday’s announcement as "excellent news" but his North Thanet counterpart Roger Gale said it was "likely to prove a massive waste of money".
Mr Gale said investment could have been better spent elsewhere, adding: "I fear this has been poorly thought through. There are many question marks, not least over the likely impact on our local GPs."
But Dr Ladyman disagreed, claiming the move would revolutionise healthcare in Thanet. He said: "This initiative will give every resident easy access to a GP. Existing services will not be reduced or cut to pay for it and the service has been planned to complement and not replace existing family doctors in Thanet."
It will be the first time such a scheme has been trialled in Kent, although Mrs Sutton said similar projects had proved successful in disadvantaged places like Tower Hamlets and parts of Birmingham.