Children's hospital service under threat

INPATIENT services for children at West Suffolk Hospital could be scrapped under radical plans for an overhaul of maternity and paediatric services across the region.

INPATIENT services for children at West Suffolk Hospital could be scrapped under radical plans for an overhaul of maternity and paediatric services across the region.

On Thursday the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) backed a raft of proposals put forward by two of its top officers.

The report calls for new children's assessment units and questions whether every acute hospital - including West Suffolk Hospital in Bury St Edmunds - needs an inpatient ward.

It also calls for more treatment to be given in children's homes rather than in hospital.

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The proposals, which were backed by the health authority's board, have sparked controversy among patients' groups, which fear the future axing of the hospital's Rainbow Ward.

Adrian Balaam, whose 10-year-old daughter Madison has been a patient at the Rainbow Ward throughout the past decade because of her Noonan's Syndrome, said: “The Rainbow Ward and a consultant there saved my daughter's life. You could not fault anything there. They provide a great service and the staff are brilliant.

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“A child being in hospital is a difficult time for any parent. It is bad enough for a child to be in hospital, never mind in a hospital a long way from home. And if parents are travelling 40 miles there then that also affects the other children they may have at home. They should not cut any children's wards. In fact they should expand the service.”

Health chiefs last night sought to reassure the public that any changes would only be introduced if they would “deliver better care”.

Richard Spring, West Suffolk MP, said: “There is nothing more upsetting to people than the illness of children and the fact that families can visit their children and be close to their children is extremely important.

“Obviously it is the job of the SHA is to undertake reviews of healthcare provision. However, the problem of those SHA reviews is they always start off from the premise of what can be reduced rather than what provision could be enhanced.”

West Suffolk Hospital chief executive Chris Bown said: “We can assure staff, patients and the public that no changes will be recommended or made that do not follow best clinical advice or do not enhance the services that children need.

“But if our clinicians say change will deliver better care and outcomes for our young patients we will take this forward.”

Consultant paediatrician Melanie Clements said: “Work has only just started and we will be engaging with our staff, colleagues from neighbouring NHS trusts, GPs, community services and with patients and their children.

“The aim is to ensure that we continue to provide clinically effective paediatric services at the West Suffolk Hospital which are tailored to meet the special needs of children.”

A spokeswoman for the East of England SHA confirmed the board had endorsed the proposals laid out in the Towards the best, together report but said no proposals had yet been made at individual hospital level.

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