I congratulate the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) on securing the debate. My constituency lies to the east of the West Kent health authority area and to the west of the East Kent health authority area. If there were a north Kent authority, we should lie to the north of that, too. In short, we sit right in the middle on this matter. If one lives in Warden Bay or Leysdown, it takes at least an hour and a half to get to the hospitals at Medway or Canterbury. It also requires the use of three or four public transport services—up to two buses and two trains. It simply is not possible to get to hospital at some times.
In addition, the Isle of Sheppey is not always connected to the mainland. We have specific problems, including having more socially excluded people than anywhere in the south-east of England outside Folkestone. The issues raised by the hon. Gentleman represent serious problems for my constituents, who prefer Canterbury because they do not yet trust the new arrangements at Medway Maritime hospital.
I wish specifically to address problems with renal services in East Kent. There has been a serious change. Margate hospital has been designated for services from spring 2003, but it is unacceptable to my constituents. It is on the far eastern side of Kent, which will cause access difficulties for all patients from my constituency and for staff, particularly those from West Kent.
As my hon. Friend the Minister knows, renal care requires lifelong associations between patients and doctors and nurses, who provide great care that involves frequent visits to clinics. On average, a patient may have to be admitted for in-patient treatment once or twice a year, and there is an average stay of nine days. It would not be possible for relatives to visit patients in Margate. They could not afford it. It is essential in a modern health care service to consider not only patients but their families, whose love and care contribute physically to their well-being. It is a serious matter if families cannot get to hospital to see their loved ones.
The proposed relocation would increase travel times and travel costs beyond the reach of most of the people on the Isle of Sheppey. Does my hon. Friend really believe that the nursing staff will transfer to Margate? If not, where will nursing staff come from? We all know that there is a shortage of trained nurses for this specialty.
The relocation of the unit to Margate is opposed by patients, by the head of the renal medicine department at the Kent and Canterbury hospital and by the community health councils for Medway and Swale and for Canterbury and Thanet. Those are reasonable people who have thought the matter through. I ask the Minister to think again about the renal unit and to keep it in Canterbury.