NHS delays release of Gravesend or Dartford urgent treatment centre consultation results
PUBLISHED: 07:00 11 December 2019
A decision to postpone the publication of results from a contentious NHS consultation - over the creation of a North Kent urgent treatment centre - has alarmed Kent councillors.
A six-year debate over the proposed siting of the new centre in Dartford or Gravesend rumbles on ahead of a key public meeting in seven days' time.
North Kent councillors yesterday (Dec 9) expressed fears that NHS bosses have delayed publishing the consultation results to conceal the health service's own agenda to base the centre at Darent Valley hospital.
Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) has declined to comment, but NHS England has pointed to its strict national guidelines which state it should not publish politically controversial material during a general election campaign.
Kent county councillor Penny Cole (Con), who represents Dartford, said she was "worried" while her colleague, Cllr Lauren Sullivan (Lab), who represents Northfleet, added: "How can we have effective scrutiny?"
Bexley and Kent councillors will be given a final opportunity to have their say as part of KCC's health overview and scrutiny committee next week at Maidstone County Hall, prior to the NHS making a final decision next month.
The North Kent CCG identified two potential sites, Gravesham Community Hospital and Darent Valley Hospital, in a recent public consultation.
The choices come despite widespread concerns from councillors and residents over distances to travel, parking and longer wait times.
More than 16,000 residents, businesses, GPs, MPs and local authorities responded to the 12-week NHS consultation, which took place between August and November this year.
This came after North Kent CCG said its existing urgent care services needed to be reformed because they fail to comply with national standards and are deemed "confusing" to the public.
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The first proposal is to to move services from Northfleet's White Horse walk-in centre to join the minor injuries unit at Gravesham Community Hospital.
The second is to move Gravesham and Northfleet services to Darent Valley Hospital, in Darenth Wood Road, Dartford.
However, with respondents left in the dark about the results from the survey, which concluded at the beginning of November, it has caused concern for some local councillors.
Cllr Cole said: "It worries me. I feel it in my bones that the NHS were hoping to generate more support from the local community for the move to Darent Valley."
Cllr Sullivan added: "It's a shame the consultation results haven't been published….I would rather a decision is made when all the facts are displayed so the board can come to an informed decision."
NHS bosses have indicated that the consultation results will be released after the election on December 13.
But, the Local Democracy Reporting service understands that this could be delayed beyond that date if a new Government is formed.
For instance, in the 2010 general election, coalition talks lasted for five days after the hung parliament result was announced on May 6, meaning there was no official Government for that period of time.
If this was repeated, the NHS paper would likely be withdrawn from next week's meeting at the eleventh hour, curbing the final chance for public debate.
NHS guidelines state: "Consultation responses should not be published until after the pre-election period has ended."
A key decision over the urgent treatment centre is expected to be made by the NHS next month, before the new proposal takes shape from July 2020.