Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS seeking members

Tunbridge Wells Hospital The new £225m Tunbridge Wells Hospital at Pembury opened in 2011

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An NHS trust has set out to recruit 10,000 people as members over the next 18 months in a drive to achieve foundation status by 2014.

Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust runs Maidstone Hospital and Tunbridge Wells Hospital, which opened in 2011.

Patients' watchdog Kent Link said it supported the move because patients' groups would have more involvement.

Foundation trusts have to be accountable to local people and members can vote for and stand as governors.

'Funding deal pending'

Kent Link chairman John Ashelford said foundation status would allow the trust to make more decisions, plan services over a longer period, and ensure it was efficient and financially robust.

But he said the target of 10,000 members was small compared with the population of 500,000 the trust served.

He also raised concerns about the financial pressures on the trust because of the private finance initiative (PFI) used to build the new £225m hospital, which he said left the NHS making large payments.

An NHS spokeswoman said the trust was awaiting confirmation of additional government funding to meet PFI costs.

She said the trust was seeking members from across its main catchment areas of Maidstone, Tunbridge Wells, Tonbridge and Malling, Sevenoaks, and parts of East Sussex and added: "We look forward to consulting with the public, our staff and other stakeholders about this important move over the coming months."

As the county's primary provider of complex cancer care, the trust also welcomes members from across Kent.

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