Services unlikely to return to Kent & Canterbury Hospital for months, admits chief executive
PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 August 2017 | UPDATED: 08:56 29 August 2017
The trust running the hospital has come under fire after half its junior doctors moved to Ashford and Margate earlier this year
Hundreds of emergency patients are still likely to be directed away from the Kent & Canterbury Hospital well into next year, the chief executive of an under-fire health trust has told us.
East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust (EKHUFT) controversially announced earlier this year it was set to make a number of cuts to services at the city hospital, with some 35 people who normally attend by ambulance every day with conditions such as heart attacks, strokes and pneumonia, instead diverted to the William Harvey in Ashford and the QEQM in Margate.
The changes, which health chiefs insist are only temporary, but have been in place since June, are the result of the trust struggling to recruit enough permanent consultants.
While some vacancies are expected to be filled over the coming weeks, the trust says it is currently plugging around half the positions with locums.
The knock-on effect of that was the trust having to move some 50 per cent of junior doctors based at the K&C to its other hospital sites in the east of the county, claiming continuing to run services without experienced consultants overseeing them would jeopardise patient safety.
Long-term, the trust wants to “reorganise” its services at the three hospitals and is set to bring proposals forward for public consultation in the spring - a move which was delayed by Theresa May’s snap general election.
Its early plans are to have two emergency hospital centres which include 24/7 A&E and planned care, with one of them providing specialist services.
The third site would be a hospital dedicated to planned care, such as hip and knee replacements, and rehabilitation, alongside a GP-led urgent care centre.
The trust believes this reorganisation will allow more patients to receive the care they need in one place, but realistically, given there have been delays already and the consultation is likely to be a long and complex process, those plans are some way off coming to fruition, which has led to fears over the current state of services.
Speaking exclusively to KoS this week, the trust’s chief executive Matthew Kershaw admitted there had been no specific timetable agreed on when services are likely to return to the K&C.
“The temporary changes we have had to make may still be in place when we reach public consultation,” he said.
“If this is the case, the trust will focus on implementing any longer-term reconfiguration once the final decision is made on where and how services are provided.
“Like many hospital trusts across the country, we have continued to see significant pressure on our emergency care services.
“Improving emergency care performance remains a key priority and a real challenge to ensure more patients are seen, treated and discharged or admitted within the four-hour standard.”
The growing crisis has seen Faversham and Mid Kent MP Helen Whately hold a Commons debate on the hospital’s future, while campaign group Concern for Health in East Kent (CHEK) has been piling pressure on the trust in recent months.
Chair Ken Rogers said this week: “We have been given information by various nurses and patients that would suggest that it is not only acute care that is suffering, but rather the whole of services provided by EKHUFT are in danger of collapse.”
Mr Kershaw and the trust comprehensively dismissed those claims while also attempted to allay fears by categorically confirming that it had no plans to close the K&C site.
Mr Kershaw said: “The strength of feeling expressed in the public meetings the NHS has hosted over the summer demonstrates how important these issues are for local people.
“People want a high quality and accessible health service that is sustainable and we need to use the resources we have in the best way possible, so we will work in partnership with our local communities on how we do that for the next five years and in the longer-term.
“Other parts of the country have brought together specialist teams to look after people with specific conditions such as stroke, more quickly, whereas in east Kent, we are still stretching our specialist services and staff too thinly in many areas.
“We have seen the very real consequences of this in the problems we have had sustaining some medical services across our three big hospitals.
“Stretched services are difficult to recruit to, and difficulties recruiting consultants to provide the right levels of support and training for our junior doctors at Kent & Canterbury Hospital, resulted in Health Education England (HEE) and the GMC, which oversees junior doctor training, requiring the trust to move 38, which is around half the K&C’s junior doctors, to our other two hospitals at Ashford and Margate.
“Because it would not be safe to continue running these services at K&C without them, we needed to make changes until we can fully resolve the situation.
“The safety of patients will always be our priority. Although we know there are many issues we need to resolve, we are absolutely committed to making these improvements.”
Another twist that came to light earlier this summer was an offer by local developer Mark Quinn to build a new hospital near the current site.
The move was supported largely by CHEK and Mrs Whately, however, newly-elected Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield was upset after not being briefed on the plans before they were announced.
Mr Kershaw said: “We are discussing the developer’s offer in more detail to see what potential it may have and whether it is an option that could provide further opportunities for the future plans for hospital services, which will be consulted on next year.
“The shell of a hospital would require capital funds to be turned into a functioning hospital and we need to take that into account, as well as other matters such as whether the hospital could be completed in a reasonable time. There are also other factors such as planning consent and access to consider.
“As a public body, it’s important that a rigorous process called ‘due diligence’ is followed before any decision could be made about the potential of any new development.”