Fears raised in hospital equipment share plan

FEARS have been voiced patients' lives could be put at risk under a controversial new system to share surgical equipment between two of the region's main hospitals.

Russell Claydon

FEARS have been voiced patients' lives could be put at risk under a controversial new system to share surgical equipment between two of the region's main hospitals.

Under proposals currently being finalised all medical instruments for Ipswich and Colchester would come under a new unit based at the Essex hospital.

But a move to a super decontamination unit has sparked fears from consultants and health campaigners that it could lead to vital equipment not being readily available in an emergency.

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Currently both hospitals have their own separate sterilization centres on site manned around the clock. But new stringent disinfectant guidelines have led health bosses to plan the new shared facility.

David Rae, a consultant in pancreatic cancer, who has worked at Ipswich Hospital for the past 14 years, warned: “There is a pressure of emergencies you cannot predict and you have got to have the capability of the kit you require to service patients at short notice. If you just devolve responsibilities to another unit and do not have capital investment available patients lives will be at risk because you do not have the kit to deliver the surgery that they require.”

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The sterilization process of medical instruments generally takes 48 hours and he said if someone dropped a tray of equipment at Ipswich Hospital it could leave them in serious trouble.

He added: “In principle it is fine, but you have to accept if you do it you have to put in more money up front at the beginning to make it work and work ably and I do not think that investment is forthcoming in the public sector at the moment.”

Prue Rush, a health campaigner in east Suffolk, labelled the move a “retrograde step”.

She said: “Someone is going to lose out, be it equipment or job losses. I am sure the accounts think it is a good thing.”

Andrew Knott, the project director for the proposed unit, who is based at Colchester Hospital, said they are currently trying to sort out planning permission issues but once the green light is given the centre could be up and running in a year.

“The plan is the decontamination unit site will be based at Colchester Hospital and will provide a service here and at Ipswich,” he said. “One of the things which is really important is making sure the clinicians are happy with how it is going to work. It is a model now being applied in a number of locations around the country.”

He said the Department of Health is making extra funds available for additional equipment and a steering group containing clinicians and PCT chiefs had been meeting to discuss how it would work and address concerns.

Currently around 50 people are employed at the Ipswich sterilization facility alone and the move is expected to involve job losses.

Jan Rowsell, a spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said: “We have to demonstrate we are making the best use of every penny of public money. Coming together means both hospitals and communities benefit because we are paying for one, not two, identical units.”

She added: “It has been a fantastic service based on site but unfortunately the new national standards for the sterilization and disinfecting of all medial instruments means we cannot actually reach those standards with our existing equipment or service.”

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