Medway Maritime Hospital in by-election debate

Medway Maritime Hospital in Kent
Image caption The Medway NHS Foundation Trust was put into special measures in July 2013

It was clear from the party leaders' speeches during the autumn conferences that the NHS is going to be one of the key battlegrounds at the next general election.

And the current by-election in Rochester and Strood has given a taste of the fight ahead.

Perhaps it's not a surprise that it's one of the issues most often raised by residents on the streets, given the crisis currently engulfing the Medway Maritime Hospital.

It was taken into special measures over a year ago.

It's also faced a catalogue of criticisms. A report in December by health firm Dr Foster said the trust had significantly higher than expected death rates, while in October the Care Quality Commission (CQC) issued three formal warnings over poor maternity care.

In the latest CQC review, inspectors said patients arriving by ambulance were the worst affected, with not enough cubicles and trolley bays in A&E to provide assessment.

The Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt recently visited the hospital and said that faster progress was needed to improve it.

'No overnight fix'

The Conservative Party's candidate in the up-coming by-election, Kelly Tolhurst, says she is speaking from personal experience and says the hospital saved her life last year. If elected she is pledging to bring hospital staff and national government together to get the Medway hospital out of special measures as soon as possible.

Labour say they would recruit more medical staff and guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours to help ease the strain on accident and emergency services.

For their part, the Liberal Democrats want to recruit more doctors and increase funding on mental health services - an area of particular concern in Kent.

The Green Party also believes that funding is part of the problem for the NHS in Medway - they propose to increase taxes on alcohol and tobacco to pay for it and also want to decentralise healthcare giving more local control.

UKIP believes visitors and migrants should have to pay National Insurance for five years before they can receive free health care. So far the party's leader, Nigel Farage, has refused to say whether he would protect the NHS budget from cuts, were he elected.

But, whichever candidate is elected on 20 November one thing is certain - there will be no overnight fix.

The new Medway Maritime's chief executive, Dr Phillip Barnes, has already admitted it will take between two and five years to address the hospital's problems.

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