Day trips to the continent could go some way to funding the campaign to save Kent and Canterbury Hospital. Alison Moore reports

Published: 15/08/2002, Volume III, No. 5818 Page 16

Big businesses and pressure group politics rarely mix. But in Kent, Hoverspeed is helping to fund a campaign to preserve services at Kent and Canterbury Hospital.

The company is donating£5 for every day trip from Dover to Calais booked using a special code advertised throughout the county in local papers.

It hopes the initiative, which will run for most of the summer, will raise thousands of pounds for Concern for Health in East Kent. The organisation has just won permission for a judicial review of the decision by the now defunct East Kent health authority to move key services from the hospital.

Hoverspeed's motivation is to keep a worthwhile local service, according to spokesman Nick Stevens.

Currently, the hospital would be involved in the event of a major incident at Dover, from which Hoverspeed runs catamaran services across the English Channel, or other Kent ports. Under the East Kent HA proposals, the accident and emergency department would close and some other services would move to Ashford and Margate.

'We employ a lot of local people - with seasonal staff included, well above 600, ' Mr Stevens says. 'A lot of our business is inbound from the continent, and many of those passengers head to Canterbury.

What happens if there is an accident or incident while they are in the Canterbury area?'

As well as the£5 donations, the company has printed 10,000 car stickers supporting the campaign and is trying to involve other businesses. Mr Stevens says Buckland Hospital in Dover - the closest hospital to the port area - has been gradually run down over the years and Hoverspeed does not want the Kent and Canterbury to meet the same fate.

CHEK spokesman David Shortt hopes the Hoverspeed promotion will raise a substantial sum towards the costs of the judicial review. A similar review in Kidderminster cost more than£50,000 - though legal aid was given for half of this.

Mr Shortt believes the Hoverspeed decision was partly altruistic, influenced by senior managers living in Canterbury.

Realistically, he also believes the company hopes to attract business with the promotion.

The final shape of services in the area is likely to be determined by ministers. Public health minister Hazel Blears has already visited the East Kent Hospitals trust and a delegation of Kent MPs has met health secretary Alan Milburn. l