100 top doctors voice hospital fears

MORE than 100 hospital consultants are to voice their fears for the future of Ipswich Hospital in an unprecedented open letter, the EADT can reveal.

Rebecca Lefort

MORE than 100 hospital consultants are to voice their fears for the future of Ipswich Hospital in an unprecedented open letter, the EADT can reveal.

Their concerns about what they believe is the gradual downgrading of the hospital will be outlined in a letter signed by more than 100 consultants at the Heath Road site due to be released in the next few days. Most leading doctors at the hospital have signed the letter, with only a handful refusing to put their names to it.

The move comes after head and neck cancer surgery was scrapped at Ipswich Hospital last year, as the NHS plans to move pancreatic cancer surgery from the site, and as a decision which will see many emergency heart attack victims no longer treated at the hospital is pushed through.


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The medics, who take pride in carrying out the most complex and challenging work, are also concerned about the hospital's failure to win key contracts such as sexual health services and more work for the world-class diabetes centre.

The potentially explosive open letter, which has been written in the midst of widespread public anxiety about the hospital's future, calls on health bosses to provide a strategic vision for the hospital, setting out clearly if they envisage specialist services being provided in Ipswich.

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The letter is targeted at the Strategic Health Authority (SHA), which oversees the NHS in six counties. Ipswich Hospital consultants have expressed concern about the quality of the SHA's decision-making process with regard to services at the hospital, and are especially concerned about the consultation process, heavily criticised recently during the controversy over heart attack treatment.

The leading doctors are anxious to stress their support for the management at Ipswich Hospital, including chief executive Andrew Reed, and believe everyone should be working towards Foundation Status for the hospital, which would give greater financial independence and less intervention from central government.

In the letter, the consultants also ask the SHA to spell out its ten-year vision for Ipswich Hospital, which the doctors believe will lose specialist skills if services continue to be moved away.

Consultant rheumatologist Richard Watts, chairman of the consultant medical staff committee, who has co-ordinated the letter, said: “There are concerns about the downgrading of the hospital if we continue to lose more specialist services.

“It has been grumbling along for the last six to 12 months and each time there is another review it bubbles up again.

“This is a big step and we hope it will have an impact. We hope the Strategic Health Authority and NHS Suffolk are able to reassure the population of east Suffolk about the future of the hospital.

“We are supportive of the trust, its management, and the bid to be a foundation trust.”

Dr Watts, who has worked at the hospital for 15 years, said he feared some colleagues would leave unless they were given assurances about the hospital's future, and added that it would also become increasingly difficult to recruit expert doctors.

He said last night that 105 consultants had signed the letter, which is currently on its eighth draft, and he hoped 120 of the 150 consultants would eventually add their name to the statement.

Ben Gummer, the prospective parliamentary Conservative candidate for Ipswich, said he was not surprised that consultants felt so worried that they had come together to write a letter.

“I've talked to dozens of consultants, management staff, nurses and auxiliary staff, and it is no exaggeration to say that everyone is concerned,” he said.

A spokesman for the SHA said: “We wish to stress that Ipswich Hospital has a bright future as a district general hospital serving people in east Suffolk and in certain specialist areas, such as radiotherapy, gynaecological cancer and spinal surgery, as a centre of excellence for a wider population.

“There was a �10.7m (6.8%) increase in the hospitals budget in 2008/09 compared to 2006/07.

“NHS Suffolk is also planning to invest in other services this year including maternity, reducing the time people wait for treatment, cancer services and health promotion services.”

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