The building of the new Buckland Hospital was all about bringing more services to Dover. The new £24 million state-of-the-art facility would stop people having to make long journeys out of town to Ashford, Canterbury or Margate.
Therefore, I am extremely disappointed and frustrated about the recent removal of a vital eye treatment service. It's simply not on – and I'm doing everything I can to bring it back to Buckland.
Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), where older people start to lose their eyesight, was treated at Buckland by injecting medication into the eye through a very fine needle. No-one likes to think of their mum or dad or grandparents having to go through a procedure like this. Particularly when it has to be repeated on a monthly basis.
Yet, until recently, at least Dovorians were able to be treated down the road at Buckland. Now the service has been withdrawn, these older patients with waning eyesight are forced to make long and difficult journeys to Ashford or Canterbury. These patients, often in their 80s or 90s, are desperate to get home to rest after having the injections. Yet for those relying on public transport, it takes hours to get back to Dover. And some older people have to take these journeys alone.
The NHS is there for us all – but particularly for the most vulnerable in society. That's why the decision to remove this eye treatment from Buckland is an extremely bad one. Particularly as a new cataract theatre is now operating. Plus, there were 3,000 ophthalmology clinics at Buckland last year, so there is clearly high demand. I'm pressing the local Clinical Commissioning Group and our hospital trust to urgently bring the AMD treatment back to Dover.
I will also be asking them why Buckland is not yet offering the anti-coagulant, phlebotomy and specialist elderly care services we were promised. When the hospital opened in 2015, health chiefs said we'd have 60,000 appointments a year. Yet two years on, 29% of the hospital remains unused. There is so much potential for Buckland and I'm determined to see it fully realised.
Of course, we must not forget how far we have come thanks to years of campaigning and hard work. In Deal, our much-loved hospital was left on the brink. Now we are getting more services – and staff numbers are up 17% on last year. At Buckland, twice as many clinics are now operating than when it first opened. What's more, a new £2.4 million project to provide extra GP services starts next month, working out of ten rooms across Buckland and Deal Hospital. They will be open 8am to 8pm, seven days a week – meaning more people can be treated locally.
We are finally getting a fairer share of healthcare. Yet health chiefs need to see sense, deliver the services we were promised – and bring the eye treatment back to Buckland.
Youngsters from a Dover school learnt about life as an MP when they visited the Houses of Parliament on Monday (March 12). Pupils from Dover Christ Church Academy even held a mock election before I dropped by to meet them.
The Year 7 students fired a number of questions at me. They asked what it's like to be a Member of Parliament – and what youngsters should do if they do not want to go to university. I told them I was always busy as an MP and the job was never boring.
And I said university is not always the best route for everyone – and that they should consider doing an apprenticeship. Nearly 6,000 apprenticeships have been created in Dover and Deal since 2010.
It was fantastic to meet the pupils from Dover Christ Church Academy. They were excellently behaved, showed a great attitude and were very keen to learn about life as an MP. My message was this – that if you are determined and work hard, there is nothing you cannot achieve. Whether it's through university or an apprenticeship, it's vital that our youngsters have ladders in life to get on and do well.
Hard-working teachers, staff and students at our schools in Dover and Deal are doing a great job, with results improving every year. We must do everything we can to support them.
Trade experts say Dover can be ready on day one of Brexit – if the Government acts "urgently". A panel of senior staff at freight associations, trading bodies and logistics firms were questioned by myself and other MPs on the Treasury Select Committee on Wednesday (March 7).
They agreed there are "practical solutions" to border operations when the UK leaves the EU's customs union and single market. But they suggested Government bureaucrats and officials were not acting quickly enough. I have detailed a number of border solutions in a report called Ready on Day One. I asked the panel if Government departments had showed "the requisite kind of energy" and used the 21 months since the EU referendum well.
Peter MacSwiney, chairman of freight forwarders trade body ASM UK, said: "No. From what I can see they have done very little.
"It seems to be an absolute given that we are just going to continue with the way we do stuff now. Well it's a completely different environment out there in the ro-ro sector. And the systems that pertain in the maritime and the air environment really aren't fit for purpose for the ro-ro ports."
Leigh Pomlett, chair of the Freight Transport Association, agreed that the "time could have been spent more wisely".
I also asked whether checks could be done away from the border: "If I'm in business and I sell something, the VAT system trusts me and they can come and audit my workplace.
"Why can't tariffs be on the same basis and the border in Dover and indeed Northern Ireland work on that basis?"
Mr MacSwiney said: "There's no practical reason why not. But there doesn't appear to have been any sort of connection between the political aspirations and the practical solutions.
"We have talked about trying to get a self-assessment working group set up. I think it's had one meeting and seems to have stalled.
"I think it's the solution but I don't think that they see the availability of these types of systems as being integral to the solution. And I'm really not sure why."
Mr Pomlett said: "I agree. I think we have wasted enough time talking about this. I think there are technical solutions."
I then asked the panel: "And in Singapore they clear in seconds don't they? Why can't we do that?"
Mr Pomlett replied: "Perhaps we could if we had the systems and the people to do it."
Shanker Singham, chair of Legatum Institute Special Trade Commission, added: "Other member states of the EU are actually doing quite a good job of getting tooled up and maybe a better job than we are doing. The Dutch particularly have 900 new customs officials.
"We really need to expedite this. One of the problems is that at the policy level people in HMRC are understanding the issue, but the people actually doing the customs haven't got the memo that this is about trade facilitation.
"So some of that training and teaching needs to happen urgently."
Everyone knows we have to fight that little bit harder in our corner of Kent for our fair share. Whether its healthcare, investment, education or transport – in Dover and Deal we always have a real battle on our hands.
It was a long and hard campaign to get a new hospital built in Dover. I joined marches, spoke at rallies and organised packed public meetings. In December 2010, health chiefs finally caved in and agreed to deliver for Dover. And in June 2015 the doors at last opened to the state-of-the-art Buckland Hospital we use today. We successfully fought to safeguard Deal Hospital too after a hard-fought community campaign.
It's been a battle every step of the way to get the St James development up and running in Dover. We saw Burlington House brought down. We got the power supply switched-on after frustrating delays. And now Nando's has announced it is opening this time next week. The six-screen cinema will soon follow. These are hugely exciting times.
Our schools are on the up following years of hard work by students and staff. Yet there is still more to do. I've recently written to Ministers asking them to write off Goodwin Academy's £3 million debt. And I'm making our case to the Government and Kent County Council to get new school buildings at Dover girls' grammar.
When it comes to our roads and rail it's a battle too. It took Highways England far too long to get rid of the hated 40mph limit on the A20 – yet last year they finally caved in to our campaign. On Christmas Eve 2015 the sea wall at Shakespeare Beach collapsed, causing havoc for rail users in Dover and Deal. Yet we got it fixed three months ahead of schedule.
Then last week we had trouble on the tracks again as Southeastern decided to close the Dover to Ramsgate line on Thursday. They said the trains could only run reliably by sacrificing our area.
I told Southeastern it was simply unacceptable to cut off our corner of Kent in this way. We pay the highest train fares here in Dover and Deal. I told them it is unfair and unjust to prioritise other parts of Kent at our expense.
So it was welcome we got Southeastern to re-open the line on Friday – before the extreme icy conditions caused routes across Kent to close. I am now writing to the bosses of Southeastern and Network Rail, requesting that the Dover to Ramsgate line is not thrown over like this again.
The powers-that-be should know by now that in Dover and Deal we are not the types to go away quietly. No matter the challenge, we'll keep fighting to get our fair share.
A born and bred Dovorian is toasting a successful first year running his micropub. Victor Evans opened the Breakwater Brewery and Breakwater Taproom in St Martin's Yard, Lorne Road, Dover, in December 2016. The Taproom was recently crowned Branch Winter Pub of the Season by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA).
Over the weekend Mr Evans invited me to sample the delicious ales on offer, explaining about the variety of events at the Taproom, such as quiz nights and live music. I was hugely impressed by the work of Victor and his team – both in the brewery and the taproom.
The pint I tried was delicious and I highly recommend people giving the Taproom a go if they haven't already. It's great that Victor is so focussed on involving the community and I'm glad local residents have supported him.
From the Mash Tun in Bench Street to Breakwater Brewery in Lorne Road, Dover is overflowing with brilliant micropubs – they are a real success story in our town.
A deeply moving ceremony was held in Dover today to mark the 31st anniversary of the Herald of Free Enterprise disaster. The families and friends of those who lost their lives and many Dovorians were in attendance at the remembrance service at St Mary's Church.
Myself, Dover mayor Neil Rix and Dover District Council chairman Sue Chandler were also among those paying their respects. A roll-call was read out of the names of the 193 people who lost their lives when the Herald of Free Enterprise capsized off Zeebrugge on March 6th 1987.
The service, led by Rev Mark Warner of the Sailors' Society, included hymns 'Abide With Me' and 'Eternal Father, Strong to Save'. An acapella version of 'Amazing Grace' was sung by Steve Erickson in front of the hushed congregation. Rev Bill McCrea, who was the Sailors' Society Port Chaplain in 1987, spoke of the "heartbreak and agony" felt by the families of the victims.
He remembered how he had given the first service to mark the tragedy three decades ago at Dover seafront, when those gathered had sung 'Abide With Me' in full voice. Rev McCrea praised the Dover community's response to the disaster and said that the victims will never be forgotten.
The ceremony was closed with a benediction from Rev John Walker, St Mary's Church team Rector. The service was followed by tea and biscuits, before the families of the victims set off to cast flowers into the sea from Admiralty Pier.
This was a deeply moving service. Yet again, as they do every year, the people of Dover came out in large numbers to support the families of the victims. We will never forget those who lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. We will always be there to care for the families and loved ones who live on.
Cancer survival rates in Dover and Deal are up 17.2% since 2000, according to new figures published this week. In 2015, 71.3% of people with cancer survived at least a year after diagnosis, compared to 54.1% in 2000. Since 2009, cancer survival rates for patients in the South Kent Coast Clinical Commissioning Group area (comprising Dover, Deal, Folkestone and Hythe) have gone up by 7.7%, compared to the 4.2% increase nationally.
We have all been close to people taken in by cancer's cruel and indiscriminate reach. The good news is that survival rates in Dover and Deal are improving at almost double the speed of the rest of the country. For years we were near the bottom of the table for so many measures of healthcare. Now things have significantly improved.
We have fought long and hard to get our fair share of healthcare in Dover and Deal. With the brand new hospital in Dover, Deal hospital saved, and more investment in technology, medicines and staff than ever, residents are finally getting the better healthcare they deserve.
Cancer survival rates across England are up 11.1%, from 61.2% in 2000 to 72.3% in 2015. The Government has spent more than £1.2 billion on the Cancer Drugs Fund – helping around 90,000 people to access life-extending drugs. It also announced a £130 million fund to modernise radiotherapy equipment and an extra £15 million improving early diagnosis and setting up Cancer Alliances for leadership across local areas.
The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) spending on cancer research has risen from £101 million in 2010/11 to £135 million in 2014/15. Last year there were seven million more diagnostic tests than in 2010, while 57,000 more patients started cancer treatment.
In December the NHS published its latest Cancer Workforce Plan, setting out aims by 2021 to recruit 1,281 more cancer consultants (a 21% increase since 2016), 2,845 more diagnostic radiographers by 2021 (an 18% increase since 2016) and a major expansion of cancer nurse specialists.
Dover is on the up. Unfortunately a few dim-witted keyboard warriors are determined to talk our town down. An online list last week ranked Dover as the 10th worst town in the UK. Yet what do these internet trolls know?
Because the truth is that our town is on the up. The long shadow cast by Burlington House has gone. That hated building was torn down following a long campaign. A new cinema and shops are rising in its place. We have seen more than £400 million invested in recent years.
Everyone knows we've been battling for the St James development for a long time. It's not been easy. Just last week problems arose over getting the scheme connected to electricity. So I held crunch talks with the power suppliers and the council – and I'm pleased the switch-on date was rapidly moved forwards. The sooner the St James scheme opens, with hundreds of people starting new jobs and thousands more visitors attracted to our town, the better.
House prices are on the up too. The latest figures show that they are rising at 11.8% in Dover, nearly double the Kent average of 6.5%. We're working hard to match the demand by delivering more affordable, family homes at places like Connaught Barracks. Of course we have to battle the grumblers who try to stop all building and seek to hold our area back.
More and more people want to move here. And why wouldn't they? There's our world-famous history – our castle, iconic White Cliffs and Roman Painted House. Then there's our transport links. You can get to London in an hour on the fast train, or just as easily jump on a ferry to France.
In town we have some great independent shops and cafes. We are also overflowing with brilliant micropubs, from the Mash Tun in Bench Street to the Breakwater Brewery in Lorne Road – where I enjoyed a delicious pint of ale last week. With St James opening within weeks, we need to do all we can to support these businesses. That's why I'm fully backing Dover District Council's plans to invest hundreds of thousands of pounds in the "old town".
Along our stunning seafront, the port have an ambitious vision for a brand new marina with shops and bars. This will be great for Dovorians and draw in yet more visitors.
There is still a long way to go and a lot of work to do. One of the challenges ahead is to find a way of linking the old town, St James and the seafront. Yet if we put our minds to it, I know it can be done.
No-one thought Burlington House would ever come down. The doubters were proved wrong then – we can prove them wrong again.
Almost £700 million has been invested in preparing for Brexit – including £60 million at the borders – following my campaign.
Immigration Minister Caroline Nokes said her department was recruiting extra border officers and "continues to make preparations for a range of possible outcomes" from negotiations with the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond insisted the Government is "continuing with detailed preparations for all possible March 2019 scenarios". He said the Treasury had allocated nearly £700 million for "preparation activity".
The statements came in response to my questions in the House of Commons over Monday (February 26) and Tuesday (February 27). It is incredibly important that the Government prepares for every eventuality. Despite the scaremongering from some quarters, we can be ready on day one at the Dover frontline, deal or no deal. I have explained exactly how in a detailed report which I sent to Ministers. But we need to invest now. It would send a message to the EU and be what I call 'no regrets spending' – because we need to strengthen our border anyway.
Asked what steps her department has taken to prepare for leaving the EU, Caroline Nokes said: "We are already recruiting additional staff in both Border Force and across the wider UKVI department to make sure we have the preparations underway for leaving the EU.
"We are making preparations for every eventuality. The Home Office has already invested £60 million in 2017/18. We will continue to review the funding position as negotiations continue and details of the final agreement become clearer.
"As he might expect, we are in continuing discussions with Her Majesty's Treasury."
Asked what preparations the Treasury has been making, Philip Hammond said: "The Government is continuing with detailed preparations for all possible March 2019 scenarios and this includes ensuring that departments have adequate resources to effectively prepare for the EU exit.
"To date the Treasury has allocated departments nearly £700 million for preparation activity and we are currently in the process of allocating the 2018/19 funding from the additional £3 billion over two years that I announced at the Autumn Budget 2017."
I have campaigned relentlessly for the Government to invest in Brexit border preparations following the EU referendum result – asking the Prime Minister in the Commons, meeting Ministers at the Port of Dover and organising roundtable discussions with industry experts.
The St James development in Dover has been powered up with electricity within days of me holding crunch talks with power suppliers.
I was alerted that the opening of the new cinema and shops had been delayed – because the contractor had put a power cable in the wrong place, resulting in time-consuming legal paperwork. Last week I held talks with UK Power Networks' chief executive and the independent provider UK Power Solutions.I also urged Dover District Council and the developer to get the paperwork sorted fast.
Then on Friday (February 23rd) work began to switch the power on – and the electricity network was fully installed on Sunday (25th). I'm delighted all those involved listened to our concerns and the St James switch-on date was rapidly moved forwards.
The sooner the new cinema and shops open, with hundreds of people starting new jobs and thousands more visitors attracted to our town, the better. Everyone knows we've been battling for the St James development for a long time. It's great that we have taken another step closer to seeing it open.
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