STRUCTURE: East Kent Hospitals University Foundation Trust’s plan to reduce a “serious clinical risk” by centralising specialist surgery has been delayed after clinicians resisted the plans.

Adult high risk general abdominal emergency and elective surgery was due to be centralised on an interim basis at Kent and Canterbury Hospital from this month after the trust identified the risk which it said was due to a shortage of gastrointestinal surgeons.

The trust’s medical director, Paul Stevens, said in February that the shortage was due to “the increasing sub-specialisation of surgery, the lack of availability of surgeons with skills that are essential to managing high risk and emergency general surgery, and the difficulty recruiting both permanent and locum medical staff”.

The centralisation was however resisted by surgeons who have put forward an alternative plan which would provide surgical procedures across both sites.

East Kent will also launch a public consultation on its proposal to centralise specialist surgery. Local MPs Sir Roger Gale and Laura Sandys both in February that they had not been consulted before the decision was announced.

In the interim, the trust has agreed to continue services at William Harvey Hospital in Ashford and Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother Hospital in Margate by using temporary consultants and less senior surgeons to cover gaps in the rota at the former site.

Its medical director had said in February that plugging gaps in rotas with locums had “potential implications for patient safety which the trust cannot ignore”.

However, a spokesman for the trust said last week that it was “confident” that it would be able to recruit four full-time surgeons based on the responses it has received so far to the job advertisements.

“The trust board reaffirmed the need to continue to test plans to centralise adult high-risk general (abdominal) emergency and elective surgery on a site not currently specified,” he added.

“This centralisation would be subject to a public consultation process expected to commence in June/July 2015.”

A trust spokesman said that having looked in more detail at the interim centralisation plan it was decided that “the impacts and risks for other services were too great”.