Fears as cancer services face shake-up

CONCERNS were raised over the future of specialist cancer services in Suffolk last night after a shake-up was given the go-ahead.Health chiefs have announced the merger of the region's cancer networks - which co-ordinate how services are provided - but insisted the changes would only be “administrative and managerial”.

CONCERNS were raised over the future of specialist cancer services in Suffolk last night after a shake-up was given the go-ahead.

Health chiefs have announced the merger of the region's cancer networks - which co-ordinate how services are provided - but insisted the changes would only be “administrative and managerial”.

However, a leading consultant and patients told the EADT last night that, in reality, they believe services will be affected.

And this has prompted fears that services provided for less common cancers could be moved out of Suffolk - leaving patients with long journeys.


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The Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority (SHA) agreed this week to develop the Anglia Cancer Network - combining its predecessors in West Anglia, Norfolk and Waveney, and Mid Anglia.

Despite the SHA's assurances that the changes would be at management and administrative level, it has left a question mark hanging over the future of rarer cancer services provided in Ipswich.

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Denise Gale, Mid Anglia Cancer Network director, said: “It is difficult to know how things will work in practice. It's difficult to form a view of the impact on the services, patients, and patient flows as the detail is unclear.

“Ultimately I think patient services will be affected.”

Andreas Hilger, ear, nose and throat consultant and head and neck surgeon at Ipswich Hospital, said: “It was worded as management and administrative structures so legally they are not bound to do a consultation.

“In Essex the same thing is happening but it is classed as changes to services and there has been a consultation. There is a bit of stealth to this.”

He added: “I think it is a service change other than by name.”

The new network will have two centres - the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the Cambridge University Hospitals/Papworth Hospital.

Mr Hilger said he was also “unsure” what the health authority had in store for the head and neck cancer unit at Ipswich, which helps around 70 patients a year with state-of-the-art radiotherapy and chemotherapy, to specialist surgery and rehabilitation.

The unit is now looking for partners based at the Cambridgeshire or Norfolk hospitals. Mr Hilger was hoping that by co-operating they would be able to bring all the experts and specialists together in meetings to discuss patients so they can get the best possible care in the region.

He said: “There may be travel to other hospitals as far as patients are concerned but we are hoping to keep as much of the cancer work at Ipswich and at the same time have increased networking with either Cambridgeshire or Norfolk.”

The shake-up has been prompted by national standards but also a stipulation that services for less-common cancers serve a population of one million.

Last July, the Essex and Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire SHAs had to ditch plans to create a number of supercentres dealing with operations for rare cancers after the proposals sparked public outcry.

Under the proposals for the Mid Anglia Cancer Network, it was feared some rarer cancer surgery could be moved from Ipswich Hospital to Colchester or Chelmsford. Patients feared the long distances could have caused problems for them and their families.

Since then a new cancer network serving the whole of Essex - including the north of the county, which used to be included in the Mid Anglia Cancer Network - has been given the go-ahead.

John Pilgrim, from Yoxford, who was a patient at the head and neck cancer unit at Ipswich, said his immediate reaction was that last year's public consultation had received “such a pasting”, that the managerial and administrative “re-jig [was devised] so as to avoid another bruising battle with patients and clinicians”.

He said: “The people of this area made it very clear last year how opposed they were to functioning and successful units being moved to accommodate administrative blueprints.”

An SHA spokeswoman added: “Existing specialist surgical pathways which have been already agreed will remain and this has been agreed by Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire and Essex SHAs.

“Specialist surgical pathways for head and neck and urological cancers will need to be determined in due course.”

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