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Hospital bed numbers in Medway continue to decline
Plus Medway benefits from northern transport funding, Kelly Tolhurst wants the Pentagon destroyed, and a new bollard hero steps forward
Editor’s note: This week, we’re taking a look at the drop in hospital beds in Medway even as our population continues to grow, and how we compare to the rest of Kent. Spoiler alert: Not great. Further down, you’ll find news of the northern transport funding heading our way, why the Rochester MP wants to destroy the Pentagon, and a bell bollard doing its duty once again. Let’s get to it.
The number of hospital beds in Medway continues to decline
The number of hospital beds in Medway has declined despite an increase in the catchment area of patients being treated at Medway Maritime Hospital.
It’s no secret that health resources have faced significant pressure in recent years, and the most recent data shows that while some improvements have been made since the start of the covid pandemic, bed availability is still noticeably lower than less than a decade ago.
New data from NHS England shows that Medway has 490 general and acute hospital beds, down from 546 in 2015, a drop of 10%. At the same time, the catchment population for Medway NHS Foundation Trust has grown from 318,000 to 329,000, an increase of 3%. In real terms, Medway’s bed availability per 1,000 people has dropped 13% in the past eight years.
The stark thing about that chart is the trajectory that bed numbers were on before the covid pandemic. As recently as 2020, Medway was operating with only 451 beds, or just 1.4 beds for every 1,000 people. While there was little option to increase capacity at the height of the pandemic, we are already seeing numbers reverting downwards again, despite the significant pressures being faced by the hospital in unloading ambulances and waiting times in A&E, let alone getting patients assigned to a ward.
This is demonstrated by the occupancy data that was released at the same time. For the most recent set of data, covering April to June this year, occupancy at Medway ran at 90%, leaving little wiggle room for new patients who may need to find a bed in a particular ward or area. In winter, this is even more noticeable, with beds running at over 92%.
It might be easy to look at this data and assume that it’s the same everywhere. And in many places, it is. Hospital beds have been cut to the bone across the UK, leading us to have one of the lowest rates of bed availability in Europe. Only Sweden has fewer beds than the UK, while Germany has three times as many per 1,000 population.
Within the UK, it’s a more mixed bag. Many hospital trusts are in the same position as Medway, but within Kent, our figures stand out compared to others. While Ashford has seen a 4% cut in bed figures in the same period, Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells, Dartford & Gravesham, and East Kent have all seen an increase in bed availability, with the latter two seeing increases in double digits.
One of the key arguments we hear when talking about development locally is that healthcare services in Medway, particularly the hospital, can’t cope with an increasing population. Based on this data, those arguments may well be right. That isn’t a case for stopping development, of course. But it is one for significantly increasing the number of beds in our hospital. Or building an entirely new one. Either way.
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Medway to benefit from northern transport spending
Continuing the trend of managing the decline of a country that can no longer build infrastructure, the Prime Minister this week cancelled the part of the HS2 network that would have provided most of the benefits for the smallest amount of cost. Instead, it was decided to spend the money on over 100 smaller projects as part of ‘Network North’, designed to improve all kinds of transport across the north of England.
Excitingly, Medway is set to benefit from this northern transport funding.
Now, you might be thinking that taking even the most liberal interpretation of what constitutes ‘the north’, Medway wouldn’t count. And the government is here to tell you that you’re wrong.
Not only are you wrong, but it’s great news too for other famous northern locales like Plymouth, Southampton, and Cornwall.
Kent is in line to benefit from three of these northern transport projects. One is in Thanet so we don’t care much about that, but two are somewhat closer to home.
Brenley Corner near Faversham is apparently due to be upgraded, appearing on the graphic, but only on some of the lists of projects. Directly impacting Medway is the long overdue ‘upgrade of Bluebell Hill’. Helpfully, the documents provide no further detail on that like how much it might cost or what it might involve. We’re not saying that the government made up these projects (including some that already exist) in a rushed job to mitigate cancelling HS2, but we’re definitely not not saying that either.
Either way, we’re excited to see what Medway’s new future as a northern powerhouse will hold.
Rochester MP calls for demolition of Chatham shopping centre
In terms of hills to die on, Rochester and Strood MP Kelly Tolhurst calling for the demolition of the Pentagon Centre in Chatham sounds like something of a weird one. But that’s exactly what she did this week.
Talking to KentOnline, she argued that shopping habits had changed, and as Medway Council now holds the freehold, it would be prudent to sell it off to developers to build housing on the site.
There is a certain amount of logic in her stance. First, while it might sound like she’s calling for part of a neighbouring constituency to be demolished, Chatham town centre does sit within Rochester and Strood rather than the more logical Chatham and Aylesford, so it is indeed her patch.
Second, Chatham does indeed need significant redevelopment and has too much commercial space, and the addition of more housing to the town centre would be beneficial and relieve pressure on other, supposedly more precious, parts of the area.
In reality, it feels like a bit of a non-starter. Medway Council has sunk £35m into purchasing the centre and has moved forward on plans to redevelop Mounthatten House above. Those plans have now progressed far enough for companies to be sought to carry out the work, which will see 164 flats built above, and maybe even the fabled rooftop wine bar. Negotiations are also continuing to convert the upstairs of the shopping centre into a new NHS health centre, though these efforts seem to be taking longer than is reasonable.
Still, it’s an interesting idea. A middle ground might be for the Brook Car Park next door to be pulled down and replaced with a large residential development. But it’s hard not to quietly admire the ambition of wanting to destroy the most central shopping destination within our towns.
Another bollard does it’s duty
We’ve written about the heroic efforts of the Strood bell bollard a number of times here on Local Authority. In the face of repeated campaigns against it from people unable to drive around a giant visible bell on the pavement, the bollard has continued to perform its duty, grounding (and even flipping) cars that dare to encroach on it’s domain.
This week, another long-lost cousin of the Strood bollard was called into action, with a car facing the wrath of the Davis Estate’s guardian.
We have no idea how the car even managed to mount the bollard, with it being positioned to protect a pavement between parking spaces and an access road.
One day, drivers may learn to simply not drive into large bell-shaped obstacles on the footpath, but apparently, today will not be that day.
🔨 In news that will delight any Medway Council social tenants who have ever needed a repair, Mears will take over the works and repairs contract across Kent and Medway NHS trusts. The contract includes day-to-day maintenance as well as 24/7 emergency repair work.
⚽ Gillingham FC have sacked manager Neil Harris after a drop in form. The club had an incredible start to the year, surging to the top of the table, but has now slipped to 8th.
🗣️ Local Democracy Reporter Robert Boddy has interviewed Conservative councillor Habib Tejan. The piece tells us about Cllr Tejan’s early life, his view on why his party was dispatched at the local elections, and what he thinks of the new Labour administration.
🚶 KentOnline sent journalist Rhys Griffiths to go for a walk through Medway and write about it. For reasons.
🔥 The former site of St John Fisher School in Chatham went up in flames this week. Firefighters are treating the blaze as suspicious.
⛪ St John’s Church in Chatham has been awarded £2.3m in Lottery Heritage Fund money. It will go toward restoring it as a church and adding facilities to turn it into a community hub.
🥗 Nucleus Arts is set to open its new site in Rainham on Monday (9 Oct). The location features artist studios, gallery space, a restaurant, and a wine bar.
🏘️ Residents in Gillingham claim they were unaware of plans for new houses being built near them, which have since been approved. Perhaps they should have become paid supporters of Local Authority and received our monthly planning updates.
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Paid supporters of Local Authority receive extra editions of the newsletter every week. This week, Steven sat down with the very enthusiastic Dr David Stokes, Chief Executive of Nucleus Arts, to discuss how a geneticist with a PhD ended up running one of the most recognisable arts charities in Medway, how science and art can mix, and which lesser-known Medway figures we should be celebrating.
Next, we looked at the state of Medway’s town centres, and how the loss of Wilko from four of our five towns exacerbates just how unprepared they are for a world where retail isn’t their dominant use.
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Also, don’t forget that our next Medway Question Time event is coming up soon! We’re in the smaller McCleods restaurant area of MidKent College this time around, so ticket numbers are more limited. Nearly half have already been booked, so don’t hang around if you’d like to join us.
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