The future of services at the William Harvey Hospital continues to rival Brexit as the main thing people wish to talk to me about. The importance of the hospital issue was illustrated by the full attendance at a “Listening Event” at the Holiday Inn on Canterbury Road last Thursday.
Although everyone is calling this a consultation on the two Options available, which broadly mean either maintaining full services at the William Harvey or moving Accident and Emergency and maternity services to a new hospital in Canterbury, we are not quite at that stage yet.
These meetings are a kind of pre-consultation, so that those drawing up the options can assess the arguments made in different parts of East Kent about how they want the services configured. I had been told that in previous similar exercises the attendance in Ashford had been low, so it was very important that we filled the room this time.
The meeting did not just cover the hospital proposals, but the wider provision of health services, including how GP services can be made more available to take some of the pressure off the hospital. It was interesting that although in Ashford there is a GP available from 8am to 8pm every weekday, and for periods on both Saturday and Sunday, many people were unaware of this improvement. It was agreed that getting this information out was a priority.
On the most contentious issue of hospital services, I sense that the medical view is tempted by a new hospital, because who would not want to work with the latest equipment? So I asked that the consultation took the patient’s view, which is that the need for treatment starts at home, not at the hospital door.
The journey to the centre of Canterbury is notoriously difficult (indeed the previous plan for one “super-hospital” in East Kent suggested a site next to the M2) as compared with the William Harvey which is literally a couple hundred yards away from the motorway network.
I argued that this will be particularly important for maternity services. The next phase of the growth of Ashford will attract large numbers of couples moving up from flats to family homes for the first time. These are precisely the people who will need maternity services as close as possible to home.
This will be a long battle, but it is essential for the people of Ashford that we win it.