• Public consultation delayed until next year
  • At least £225m capital now needed
  • Surprise third option ruled out on cost grounds 

A shake-up of emergency and specialist services between three hospitals in Kent is facing delays and is expected to cost far more than originally thought.

A joint committee of the clinical commissioning groups in East Kent will be asked to approve the next steps – including detailed evaluation of two options – at a meeting next week. Public consultation on the project was expected this year, but has now been delayed to next year. 

Since the plans were first outlined in 2017, the expected costs of one option, involving a consolidated accident and emergency, consultant-led maternity and specialist services at a new build hospital in Canterbury, have risen from around £250m to more than £300m.

The expected costs of a second option, to consolidate emergency and specialist services in Ashford and retaining A&E and maternity in Margate, have risen from £160m to around £225m.

The CCGs also looked at a surprise third option, involving a single emergency department and consultant-led maternity at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, but this was rejected on cost grounds. Had this option been approved, residents of Margate and Thanet would have faced a 60-minute ambulance journey to access an A&E. 

According to the proposed timetable, a pre-consultation business case covering all the proposed options will be developed during 2019. It is not expected to be submitted to NHS England before December. Funding for each of the options would also need to be secured, most likely through an application to the next capital funding round in the autumn.

NHSE will have to approve the business case before it can go to public consultation – possibly in the early part of next year.

The two options under consideration, which are now likely to be evaluated further, involve a one-site configuration and a two-site option:

  • A one-site new build hospital in Canterbury, with consolidated A&E, consultant-led maternity and specialist services. Developer Quinn Estates has offered to build the “shell” of the new hospital in return for planning permission elsewhere in the city, which would reduce the cost of the project to £302m. Ashford and Margate would have urgent treatment centres, with elective surgery on one or two sites.
  • A major emergency centre in Ashford, which would also host specialist services. Margate would retain A&E and consultant-led maternity. There would be an urgent treatment centre and a consolidated planned surgery unit in Canterbury. This option would cost £225m.