Legal challenge to cancer services move?

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save specialist cancer services at Ipswich Hospital have said they may take legal action if the fiercely-opposed plans go ahead.

Craig Robinson

CAMPAIGNERS fighting to save specialist cancer services at Ipswich Hospital said last night they may take legal action if the fiercely-opposed plans go ahead.

D-day is looming on the controversial proposals - which have led to fears that seriously ill patients will have to travel long distances for vital treatment - with the Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) set to make a final decision next Wednesday.

Its preferred option is to move specialist head and neck surgery currently provided at Ipswich Hospital to Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital by December.

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All other aspects of care including diagnosis, radiotherapy, chemotherapy, follow up and support would continue to be provided locally at Heath Road, according to the plans.

But last night Peter Espley, acting chairman of the Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group, said they would consider a judicial review should the proposals get the green light.

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“We just think that the ACN has no case whatsoever,” he said. “What really concerns us is that they don't seem to be listening to patients, carers and their families.

“If you look at all the documentation there are thousands of people in favour of keeping the head and neck services at Ipswich.

“The health trusts all talk about doing what patients want but they seem to be 100% ignoring us. A whole string of organisations have come out against it as well as local MPs and even the Shadow Health Secretary.

“The ACN, the strategic health authority and the PCT should be working to give patients and carers what they want - not the other way around.

“The transfer of services from Ipswich to the Norfolk and Norwich would be unreasonable and perverse and a judicial review is definitely something we would consider.”

On the same day as the ACN announcement, the county's Health Scrutiny Committee will also discuss the proposals - ahead of a meeting of Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) on July 30, which will make a final decision.

A three-month public consultation on the proposals came to an end on June 4 and health bosses are now considering their response.

In that time there has been widespread support to keep the cancer surgeries at Ipswich Hospital - with footballing legend Sir Bobby Robson, who received life-saving cancer surgery at the hospital, and a number of high-profile surgeons speaking out against the move.

There has also been confusion about the number of new cases of head and neck cancer surgeries carried out at Heath Road last year - with the ACN saying the number was 66 but the doctors carrying out the operations saying the figure was 103, which would be enough to prompt a U-turn.

The ACN claim there is a need to transfer services to one centre because the current set up does not meet national guidelines.

They say there is evidence to suggest that there are better medical outcomes if each team serves a population of one million and that teams treat 100 new patients a year.

Last night a spokeswoman for ACN said: “The ACN is considering the outcome of the consultation at its board meeting on July 9 and will determine a final recommendation to Suffolk PCT, which will make a decision on July 30.

“The basis of the proposals is to strengthen and improve the quality of care provided to patients undergoing major surgery for these very rare cancers.”

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