Gale's View (September 7th 2008)
It should surprise nobody that on Saturday hundreds of people braved the weather to pack the grounds of the Queen Victoria Memorial hospital in support of the annual fund-raising fete organised by the League of Friends. Nor is it surprising, although it should not be taken for granted, that the Chairman of the League, her committee and volunteers had worked for the best part of two days to prepare the site and, with the help of the Herne Bay Air Training Corps, to try to nail down the gazebos in the teeth of a wind that on occasions threatened to take the structures and the cadets airborne!
The Queen Vic is, literally and metaphorically, at the very heartbeat of the Bay. This fantastic little hospital with its hugely dedicated medical, nursing and ancillary staff offers precisely the kind of excellent local facilities that a town like Herne Bay needs if we are to offer people treatment close to home. With the adjacent Day Centre and the podiatric unit (opened by a former Speaker of the House of Commons, George Thomas) the Queen Vic is foremost among East Kent's Cottage hospitals offering, as it does, X-ray and operating services in addition to a range of other services.
Over the years the League of Friends has contributed very many thousands of pounds in building work, decoration and the equipment necessary to keep the hospital up to the mark and it is no exaggeration to say that without the League and the support of the Town the likelihood is that the hospital would be long gone.
Some of my earliest battles, fought mainly behind closed doors, were to save the Queen Vic from a closure wished upon it by healthcare centralists - those who believed and continue to believe that only big is beautiful or efficient. More recently I have sought, with only limited success, to persuade successive Chief Executives of successive Health Authorities and Trusts that the Queen Vic could and should be given the chance to do more. Sadly, my efforts have on occasions been hampered by what has been at best lukewarm enthusiasm from some primary healthcare practitioners who have afforded cash-strapped authorities the excuse to require "further consultation" before taking action.
The fact of the matter is that the Queen Vic, with available land and with the backing of the League of Friends and the affection and support of local people, is an opportunity still waiting to be realised.
It is a pity that that illustrious medical practitioner Professor Lord Darzi has not visited the Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital, Herne Bay. Before blundering ahead in the teeth of GP and popular opposition, with the creation of Darzi’s "polyclinics" the government and those largely redundant Regional Health Authorities would perhaps do well to look further at the development of the existing estate of cottage hospitals. They would find buildings and staff and patients all willing and waiting for the chance to show that it really is possible, working in tandem and not in competition with general practice, to offer truly local healthcare for local people. There is, of course, much specialist medical treatment that cannot either economically or medically be offered other than in the larger teaching and acute hospitals and that will always be so. For the majority of minor treatments, though, and for recuperative and convalescent medical care, close to home and friends must surely be best.