• Peter Carter says “failure to make the necessary changes” locally has held back East Kent trust
  • Trust’s problems go back over 20 years, chair says
  • It is “vital” that there is a willingness to implement changes from upcoming reconfigurations

A departing chair has said his trust has been held back over the past 20 years because of the local system’s failure to take action to improve services.

Peter Carter, the interim chair of East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust, sent a farewell message to staff yesterday thanking them for their commitment to patient care.

But he added: “It is quite clear to me that the challenges across the East Kent health economy go back over 20 years. My view is that there has been a failure to make the necessary changes to take services forward in a way that is in the best interest of the people we serve.

“This is not the responsibility of the current leaders of the trust, or those who have been in senior management posts over recent years. We have some good leaders but the trust has been held back in key areas: in its ability to make essential and substantial changes to how services are delivered, in being able to centralise specialist services and teams, and by a lack of capital investment.

“As you know there is currently a consultation underway in relation to stroke services and later this year the consultation will commence on specialist and acute hospital services. Whatever the outcome, it is vital that once the consultations have been completed there is a willingness to implement changes which will make significant improvements to patient care.”

The trust has struggled to maintain services at its three main sites over recent years, with a temporary emergency reconfiguration of some services away from the Kent and Canterbury Hospital last year.

Midwife-led births were stopped at the hospital in 2012 and consultant-led maternity and a full A&E had been lost around 10 years earlier. While other potential changes have been talked about for many years, they have not been implemented.

The current consultations could see some specialist services and a major accident and emergency unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, with the Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, Hospital in Thanet providing a second A&E. However, a second option would see a new build hospital in Canterbury providing centralised emergency and specialist services for the whole of the area. The trust also has a massive backlog of repairs with £30m designated as high risk.

The trust’s new chair, Professor Stephen Smith, was due to start on 1 March. A new permanent chief executive is expected to be appointed within weeks. Mr Carter and interim chief executive Susan Acott stepped in after the former chief executive Matthew Kershaw and chair Nikki Cole left in the autumn, when the trust was criticised for having the worst record on A&E performance in the country.