Anger at cancer unit move proposal

By Rebecca SheppardPATIENTS in Suffolk who are suffering from head and neck cancers could face long journeys for life-saving surgery.Specialist surgical treatment for people with the rare types of cancer could be moved from Ipswich Hospital under new proposals.

By Rebecca Sheppard

PATIENTS in Suffolk who are suffering from head and neck cancers could face long journeys for life-saving surgery.

Specialist surgical treatment for people with the rare types of cancer could be moved from Ipswich Hospital under new proposals.

The preferred option being looked at by East Anglia's two strategic health authorities would see surgery for head and neck cancers transferred to hospitals in Chelmsford.

It would put an end to the comprehensive service offered at Ipswich Hospital, one of the few in the country to provide state-of-the-art radiotherapy, chemotherapy and specialist cancer surgery, including laser surgery for patients with head and neck cancer, under one roof.

About 70 people a year are treated for head and neck cancers at the unit and some of those patients criticised the proposals, saying travelling into mid Essex would have put more strain on them and their families.

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They have defended the hospital and the "excellent" service it provided, claiming the plans would cause upheaval for patients and could lead to risky breakdowns in communication if treatment is split up.

Lead clinician Andreas Hilger, who is a consultant ear, nose and throat, head and neck surgeon at Ipswich Hospital, wrote a letter to patients, alerting them to the proposals and urging them to "air their feelings".

He said the team believed it was able to provide patients with the best possible and the most modern treatments and care available.

"Sadly this comprehensive service is under threat by proposals of Essex Strategic Health Authority and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority to fragment those cancer services and concentrate them at Chelmsford hospitals. We think it is time you should know about these politics and really have your say," wrote Mr Hilder.

The proposal is laid out in a discussion paper called Strategic Plan for Less Common Cancers in the Mid-Anglia Cancer Network.

Its aim is to set an agreed overall plan that will speed up the development of life-saving surgical care in centres, which will improve patients' chances of survival. Under national policy, the specialist centre must serve a population of at least one million people.

The Essex and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire strategic health authorities are considering three broad approaches, with its favoured model to have specialist surgery distributed between hospitals, serving people with specific cancers in the whole area.

The other options are to change the networks with one covering Norfolk and Suffolk and the other the whole of Essex, or to centralise the services in one unit for the region.

Under the preferred choice, it would like to see surgical care for head and neck as well as gastrointestinal cancers provided at a Chelmsford hospital site. Colchester would look after urology and Ipswich gynaecology.

The report said: "Patients will receive most of their treatment locally through their GP, their local hospital and nearest radiotherapy centre.

"It is just for the surgical operation that they would need to go to a specialist centre. Generally this would mean spending about seven days in the centre."

Erica Bolam's husband Terry was operated on and successfully treated for throat cancer at Ipswich Hospital after he was diagnosed last April.

Mrs Bolam, from Whatfield, said: "This will have a massive effect. It will just fragment the treatment, which will have a detrimental effect on patient care."

Chris Mole, Ipswich MP, added: "This is the second time the Mid Anglia Cancer Network has come up with a proposal which does not seem to acknowledge the strength of some of the cancer activities in Ipswich Hospital.

"I want to be sure that when the final decisions are made that they are done on the basis of delivering the best services across the Mid Anglia area to all the patients and that there are no long-term negative repercussions for Ipswich Hospital."

Jayne Ashworth, spokeswoman for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority, denied the plans were financially motivated and said it is consulting on where the specialist centres should be as there was "no obvious solution".

Essex Strategic Health Authority declined to comment.

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