WARDS at Gravesend Community Hospital should be reopened to ease the pressure on Darent Valley, say politicians and health experts.

But West Kent Health Authority claims it is better to invest money in community health teams than beds.

Politicians are arguing not all the health teams are in place and the area needs more community beds in the meantime.

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They feel better use could be made of the wards at the Gravesend Community Hospital which are gathering dust while plans are being drawn up to build a new hospital on the site by April 2003.

Gravesham MP Chris Pond said: I am lobbying the Minister of Health for 16 to 24 beds to be put in the Gravesend Community Hospital.

Although West Kent Health Authority and the Primary Care Group say there are investing money in community teams, they are not all up and running yet so we need bed provision in the meantime.

Former MP Jacques Arnold has written to West Kent Health Authority chairman Peter Smallridge asking for wards to be re-opened at the hospital.

He said: Mr Smallridge has carefully ignored my call for immediate action to alleviate the pressures at Darent Valley by re-opening wards in Gravesend Hospital.

He claims there has been an expansion in the use of beds at Livingstone Hospital (16) in Dartford. This is clearly not enough.

Dartford, Gravesham and Swanley Community Health Council chairman Ernie Brook said he wants to ensure there are intermediate beds for the elderly and frail not just for winter but in the long-term.

But West Kent Health Authority defends its decision not to reopen beds at the hospital.

Bill Gillespie, Director of Performance Management at West Kent Health Authority, said: We have decided that it is better to invest money in community teams than in beds for a high level of care.