Suffolk: County’s cardiac patients face dash for life

HEART attack sufferers in rural parts of Suffolk will continue to face long ambulance dashes to hospitals out of the county – with a year-long review today expected to back the controversial emergency care shake-up.

The EADT understands that national heart tsar Professor Roger Boyle will endorse the changes – introduced last year – in which emergency heart attack patients from east Suffolk are taken to specialist centres in Norwich, Papworth and Basildon for treatment.

At a briefing in Ipswich, he is also expected to say that clot-busting drugs, which are currently administered by paramedics to help heart attack victims on their way to hospital, should not be used ahead of patients undergoing the specialist angioplasty procedure.

Professor Boyle, the national director for heart disease and stroke, started his review last September – studying survival rates and testing journey times.

It is understood his findings meet all the necessary criteria and that he will recommend pushing ahead with the controversial plans – which many fear will leave patients in remote parts of Suffolk, such as Aldeburgh or Orford, facing a dash for their lives.

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Last night the county’s MPs vowed to oppose the changes and pledged to continue the fight to get a similar service up and running at Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Dan Poulter, Conservative MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, said he had serious reservations concerning Professor Boyle’s findings.

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“From my understanding the journey times were measured from when the ambulance arrived and picked the patient up,” he said. “However, they should have been measured from the time of diagnosis – from when it was first reported.

“The first hour of treatment is vital. I believe the premise was flawed from the start – the whole study was introduced to justify a very bad idea.

“I will raise this issue with force in Parliament and continue to fight to get those key services returned for the people of Suffolk. We have lost far too many at Ipswich Hospital and we cannot let it continue.

“Everyone deserves to have first-rate cardiac care provided locally. It’s easy for people to understand – an increase in response times will cost lives.”

Therese Coffey, Conservative MP for Suffolk Coastal, echoed her colleague’s view.

She said: “It seems a step backwards. We will have to resurrect the fight to get proper healthcare for the people of Suffolk.”

Julian Worster, mayor of Aldeburgh, said for areas that had an ageing population the changes would pose some very worrying questions.

“It seems to me that this will make remote areas even more cut off,” he said. “It will take well over an hour to get to Norwich from here. What effect will it have on survival rates? What happens if you don’t realise someone is suffering a heart attack and you take them to Ipswich Hospital? Will they then get sent to Norwich or Basildon? I think these are the type of questions that will concern people.”

The East of England Specialised Commissioning Group said in May last year that it wanted emergency heart attack victims in Suffolk to be taken to Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention centres (PPCI) in Norwich, Cambridge and Basildon, where they could undergo angioplasty, a specialist procedure where a balloon is used to inflate the arteries.

Health chiefs say this has been clinically proven to be the most effective treatment for severe heart attacks.

However, the proposal led to public outrage and it was decided to undertake a thorough review.

Professor Boyle is due to deliver his year-long findings to a group of health professionals and interested parties today.

It it understood the numbers of people suffering ST Elevation Mycocardial Infarction (STEMI) heart attacks have been fairly small – around three a week since the trial began – and most patients have been taken to Basildon.

Part of the reason for this is because there are a number of other accident and emergency departments available to get treatment en-route, such as Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford, if required.

The time target for taking patients to the specialist centres of 165 minutes has been met in all cases, it is believed.

There has just been one fatality that happened at the beginning of the trial, although the condition of the woman, who was in her 80s and from the Whitton area of Ipswich, was so poor that it is not known if she would have survived anyway.


THERE has been huge concerns over the length of journey times since the controversial changes were proposed last year.

Even the ambulance service could not be sure how long it would take to drive from the Suffolk coast to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital - one of the three heart attack centres set up in the east.

As a result the EADT carried out its own investigation - an experiment that showed journey times will be pushed to the limit of what is acceptable, putting patients’ lives at risk.

It found it would take about two hours 45 minutes for someone in Orford to be treated after calling for help - dangerously close to the 165-minute mark which the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) had pledged as the top upper limit.

The maximum figure of 165 minutes from dialling 999 to the procedure being carried out is controversial itself, because national guidelines show angioplasty is most effective if it is administered within 120 minutes and must be done within 150 minutes.

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