Councillors unite against health plans

COUNCILLORS have united across party lines to protest against proposals to move vital cancer services from Suffolk to Essex, claiming it will put lives at risk.

By John Howard

COUNCILLORS have united across party lines to protest against proposals to move vital cancer services from Suffolk to Essex, claiming it will put lives at risk.

Patients in Suffolk who are suffering from head and neck cancers could face long journeys for life-saving surgery if the controversial ideas get the go ahead.

Under the proposals, first reported in the EADT two weeks ago, specialist surgical treatment for people with the rare types of cancer could be moved from Ipswich Hospital.

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.

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The proposals would also see include Colchester taking on urology and Ipswich gynecology.

It comes amid a major shake-up in hospital and heath services, with the Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury to close, Felixstowe General under threat, four others being reviewed and east Suffolk health services overspending by £2,000 an hour.

Councillor Liz Harsant, Conservative leader of Ipswich Borough Council, said: "I am shocked by some of the plans of the strategic health authority.

"Ipswich is the fastest growing urban centre in the region and our hospital has an excellent reputation.

"Transferring some cancer treatment services away from Ipswich is simply not on and we will do all we can to stop this.

"I am calling on all the political parties at the council to join me in making the strongest possible protest."

George King, Liberal Democrat deputy leader on the borough council, said he was totally opposed to the move and fears lives could be put at risk.

Mr King said: "For years we have been trying to get an established cancer unit here, now we have it, services could move.

"A lot of colleagues will be unhappy about this and it comes after we could lose Felixstowe too. It could put lives at risk if we lose local services.

"Why should people have to travel miles for treatment when they already have it locally?"

David Ellesmere, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: "The strategic health authority has got a difficult decision to make on this.

"They have got to weigh up with the less common cancers making sure there is a centre of excellence to deal with enough patients, versus people having to travel a long way.

"The proposal to move services from Suffolk to Essex is wrong though. Ipswich Hospital is consistently rated a centre of excellence for cancer treatment and if it is a case of looking for a centre, then Ipswich would be ideal."

Jayne Ashworth, spokeswoman for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority, said: "We would not even consider this if there was a risk that lives could be at risk. It's about patients getting the right service, not about taking services away from an area.

"It's to ensure that patients get the best possible care possible and the best choice of surgery. It's to make sure patients can access the services where the specialists are based.''

She added that no decision has yet been reached and consultations will continue for months.

The news comes as it emerged that some GPs may have already been telling patients with rare forms of cancer that their next appointments will be in Chelmsford – before an official decision has been taken.

Professor Roger Dyson, the chairman of Essex County Council's Health Overview and Scrutiny Committee, said last night he had asked his office to investigate.

He added: "We are not sure what's been happening, but it would seem very worrying if doctors have been behaving in this way.

"It's imperative that the decision and consultation process is open and transparent."

However, a spokeswoman for Essex Strategic Health Authority denied any deal had been struck, adding she had no knowledge of any GP advising patients about future locations for appointments.

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