MP's fury at cancer services switch

HEALTH Secretary Alan Johnson will be asked to justify hugely controversial plans to move head and neck cancer surgery away from Ipswich Hospital.

Danielle Nuttall

HEALTH Secretary Alan Johnson will be asked to justify hugely controversial plans to move head and neck cancer surgery away from Ipswich Hospital.

Suffolk Coastal MP John Gummer has tabled a series of questions to the minister asking him to explain the thinking behind the proposals.

The move comes after a report, due to be considered today by Suffolk Primary Care Trust, recommended going ahead with the relocation of specialist surgery from Ipswich to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) wants to move the surgery because Ipswich Hospital is treating less than the recommended 100 new cases a year and does not serve a population of one million people to enable it to remain a designated centre.

Its figures showed the hospital only treats 66 new cases each year - but there has been concern that these figures are out of date and only relate to the period 2004-2006.

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Mr Gummer said: “At the moment, the PCT refuses to give us figures for the number of patients treated. They say those figures support their view that there are not enough cases for them to be able to keep Ipswich Hospital open for this aspect of work. I have good reason to believe that's not true so I want those figures.

“The truth is we are now being pushed into a position in which our hospital is under threat. It means people from my constituency, for instance, are going to have to travel to Norfolk in order to have major surgery. This is unacceptable in my view.

“Why is it Ipswich has been removed from being the geographical centre which included part of Essex and part of Suffolk?”

Mr Gummer said his concern was that Ipswich Hospital would eventually be downgraded from a level three to a level two hospital if more and more services were taken away.

“We want to know on what possible basis can they suggest a rural area like us should be denied the full service of a large hospital?” he said.

“We have to fight for this to be here for everybody in the area. If it became a grade two hospital it would mean it would not have the full trauma services. There is a golden hour in which to save people who have suffered heart attacks or strokes. We need the full service in our hospital to protect these people.

“If we do not fight for Ipswich Hospital to have the full range of services the next step will be to say this is not an important hospital we will remove the other acute services.

“This is salami slicing - you cut one bit off and then you cut off another bit. That's why I'm fighting it.”

The Ipswich Hospital board voted last week for a more integrated team between the two hospitals.

But the ACN says the move of the surgery is needed to comply with national guidelines designed to improve cancer outcomes and that combining the Ipswich and Norwich teams is not an option because it does not meet these guidelines.

Audrey Bradford, director of the Anglia Cancer Network, said last week they were trying to empathise and were hearing people's concerns in the consultation process.

“What we want to do is understand these concerns and balance them against the requirement to ensure that head and neck services comply with the Department of Health guidance.”

She added there was a well established patient transport system in the county.

Suffolk PCT said it would be a matter for the Health Secretary to answer Mr Gummer's questions.

John Gummer's parliamentary questions to Health Secretary Alan Johnson

1. Does the Secretary of State consider Ipswich Hospital and the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital to be in close geographical proximity?

2. Does he consider Ipswich and Norwich to be a single conurbation?

3. Does he consider Suffolk to be a sparsely populated area?

4. Does he consider Norfolk to be a sparsely populated area?

5. Does he consider advice given by the British Association of Head and Neck Oncologists on matters concerning head and neck cancer to be authoritative?

6. Should PCTs cease to purchase services from hospital units under threat of closure before the consultation on their closure has been concluded?

7. Does the SoS consider it absolutely necessary that PCTs only commission head and neck cancer services from those head and neck cancer units that it considers to be compliant with NICE Improving Outcomes Guidance?

8. Are PCTs prohibited from commissioning head and neck cancer services from units that are not considered compliant with NICE Improving Outcomes Guidance?

9. What organisation is ultimately responsible for judging whether a head and neck cancer unit is compliant with NICE Improving Outcomes Guidance?

10. What is the current status of Ipswich Hospital and when was that status last changed?

11. Does the SoS consider two hospitals, one-and-a-half hours apart by car, to be in close geographical proximity to one another?

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