Indeed, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
Since this subject was last debated, the situation has worsened. The hospital is the most heavily used and cost-efficient of all the hospitals in Kent, and the only one in East Kent with a mixture of regional specialist services. I believe that the plans in the "Moving Forward" document will put at risk health care in the whole of East Kent.
In December 1998, the then Secretary of State for Health concluded his considerations of East Kent health authority's so-called "better balance" proposals and sent a letter to Members of Parliament on 22 December, with a further letter following at the end of March to the chairmen of the trusts. The first letter said:
my decision is to endorse the Health Authority's proposals, subject to a number of conditions.
By any standard, the conditions were major. The letter went on to say that
the proposals to the Kent and Canterbury A&E … are not satisfactory and must be improved.
The letter said that EKHA must
guarantee that onsite consultant and anaesthetic surgical and medical cover will be provided at the Kent and Canterbury during the day and on-call cover in these specialities … out of hours.
That was even reinforced by the condition that
there will be a designated consultant to develop and lead the Canterbury emergency centre … to ensure that a substantial proportion of consultant time is spent at Canterbury",
consultant medical cover for the coronary care unit at the hospital
and a physician with an interest in coronary care.
The Secretary of State also demanded a full review of the provisions for renal medicine.
In his second letter, the Secretary of State gave a further critical guarantee. He said:
it is clear that many of the respondents to consultation were under the misapprehension that the proposal was to move specialist cancer services, rather than simply the management of those services".
The retention of specialist cancer services at Kent & Canterbury Hospitals was part of that decision. Specialist cancer services at Canterbury, therefore, have a firm future.
He also made a firm commitment to at least 232 beds in Canterbury, as against around 390 at the Kent and Canterbury and the Nunnery Fields hospitals together.