Patient: 'Don't move cancer services'

A CANCER patient has told of the 110-mile round trip he has to endure for specialist treatment and urged health bosses not to make others go through the same ordeal.

Lizzie Parry

A CANCER patient has told of the 110-mile round trip he has to endure for specialist treatment and urged health bosses not to make others go through the same ordeal.

Peter Whitfield's plea comes on the same day that Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) is expected to announce that vital head and neck cancer services will be transferred from Ipswich Hospital to the Norfolk and Norwich.

Mr Whitfield already has to travel to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital from his home in Sutton, near Woodbridge, for his on-going treatment - a trip of about 55 miles.

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Although the quality of care is excellent, the 81-year-old said the long journeys put a big strain on him and his wife, Maureen.

He has now urged the PCT not to push ahead with controversial plans to move head and neck cancer services away from Heath Road to Norwich.

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Bosses meet today to finalise the proposals, which have been fiercely-contested by many patients, clinicians and politicians.

Mr Whitfield was referred to the Norfolk and Norwich after seeing a specialist consultant from the hospital during a clinic at Ipswich.

He said: “I am not criticising the clinical side at all but I would like to make clear that the PCT seem completely out of touch with the situation in rural Suffolk - they appear to have no idea of the problems faced by elderly people on a fixed pension.

“What about elderly people living in rural Suffolk on their own? How will they manage and afford to make the trip up to Norwich?”

Mrs Whitfield, a retired nurse, has spent time travelling to and from Norwich visiting her husband each day while he was recovering from his operations.

“There is nothing wrong with the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, it is absolutely fine,” she said. “It is the inconvenience of the travelling and the expense of the long journeys that present the problems for us.”

When asked what she would like to say to the PCT ahead of their decision, Mrs Whitfield replied: “Have they considered the impact that travelling to and from Norwich will have on patients and also on relatives that visit each day?

“Most of the people this will affect are elderly and many are debilitated, not to mention the fact that visitors are likely to be upset and concerned about their relatives. We are weary with it all.

“Why move things up to Norwich when we have a perfectly good department at Ipswich?”

The journey from the Whitfield's home in Sutton to Ipswich Hospital is a 22-mile round trip - taking just under half an hour each way and costing around £6 in petrol.

In contrast, the trek to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital is a 110-mile round trip that takes around an hour and a half each way and costs roughly £24 in petrol.

“Visiting Peter each day and travelling all that way whilst he was in hospital was tiring and so not only do I have to go so far, it's the weariness of the travelling that also affects me and the cost of the trip really adds up after a few days,” Mrs Whitfield added.

She said she ran into difficulty when her husband was released from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital 24-hours earlier than planned - a day when she could not make the trip to visit him.

“Our dog was in the vets having an operation and I had tickets booked to the opera at Snape Maltings that night and so didn't have time to make the trip, but I was told he had to be picked up that day,” she said.

Relying on public transport would have posed more of a problem, involving the couple getting a bus to Woodbridge, and then another bus or train to Ipswich only to have to change to get the train to Norwich and finally another bus to the hospital.

As a result of the inconvenience the couple decided to cancel one of Mr Whitfield's check-up appointments, after they were unable to rearrange it for Ipswich Hospital.

Mrs Whitfield said: “In the end we didn't go, I told the hospital that I would keep an eye on the wound myself and if I had any concerns I would take Peter to the GP.

“Had the appointment been in Ipswich we could have just popped along to be checked, we made the decision not to go because it was such a long way.”

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