I have been contacted by people concerned about reports that the Kent and Canterbury Urgent Care Centre could be closed. I’m worried too, and have sought reassurance from Matthew Kershaw, the Chief Executive of East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust. He explained that there are no plans to close the Urgent Care Centre, but the trust is looking at ways to cope with temporary staff shortages caused by people being off sick.
These are contingency plans, but there have been concerns for some time about staff being too thinly stretched across the NHS Trust’s three emergency departments. The important thing is to make sure the contingency plans don’t have to be used – and instead solve the staffing problems.
This has been the toughest winter East Kent Hospital staff can remember, with more patients coming to A&E, particularly frail elderly people and children. At the same time, there have been delays to patients being discharged, so hospitals have been exceptionally full. That in turn is partly because of shortages in nursing and social care out of hospital. I’ve seen some of those pressures for myself, on rounds with a local care worker, visiting care homes and meeting staff and volunteers at Age UK. And while this winter has been particularly difficult, the forecasts are that demand for NHS and social care is only going to increase.
Health and social care leaders locally have been working on ways to solve these problems, developing the Kent and Medway Sustainability and Transformation Plan, and putting ideas into practice at the ‘Encompass’ vanguard in Whitstable. In both cases, this is about looking at the system as a whole across health and social care. I have been in close contact with the teams involved, pressing them to come up with robust plans for care outside hospitals. And in the short term, I have been lobbying Ministers for funding to relieve the immediate pressure on social care ahead of this year’s budget.
I’m also pressing for a more ambitious long-term vision for healthcare in East Kent, together with Sir Julian Brazier MP. The ideas include a new centre of excellence in Canterbury, and a medical school for Kent. This would enable us to train the doctors and nurses we need, attract the brightest and best to work in our hospitals, and be an important boost to Kent’s life sciences industry. Proposals are being worked up by The University of Kent and Christchurch University.
I’ve also met the Health Minister and Lord Heseltine, head of the Thames Estuary 2050 Growth Commission, to seek their support for this plan. With all this work going on I want to make sure that the answers we see emerge are the right ones; not a set of compromises but an ambitious vision that will give us truly excellent healthcare for decades to come.