Another blow for hospital

IPSWICH Hospital is today facing another crushing blow after it emerged that some of the services it provides could be taken away by the county's health trust.

JUST as a chink of light was emerging on the financial horizon at Ipswich Hospital, today brings another crushing blow after it emerged that the county's health trust could strip it of some of its services.

The Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) wants independent organisations to take on ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat (ENT) outpatient services, meaning even less income for the already cash-strapped hospital.

It has also emerged that the PCT did not tell the hospital about the planned move, leaving bosses to find out about it when an advert was placed in trade magazine, the Health Service Journal.

The hospital's ENT department is widely recognised as one of the best in the world with its staff winning a number of top accolades.

But now the PCT is hoping to create smaller outpatients units in the community, possibly run by other organisations than Ipswich Hospital.

Claire Jacobs, Royal College of Nursing officer for east Suffolk, said: “As far as we are aware Ipswich Hospital had not been given any indication that there was anything wrong with them providing the services or told that the PCT were going to be putting them out to tender before the advert went in.”

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The decision is part of government policy to move care closer to home but questions have been asked about the logic of taking services away from departments that are already doing a good job.

Mrs Jacobs said: “We are very concerned about this. If the acute sector (the hospital) is not up to scratch or is failing in some way you may expect the PCT to take services elsewhere but this is not the case.

“Our worry is that if they are going to be a cheaper alternative they are going to have to make some cuts along the line.”

Pru Rush, spokesman for the Ipswich Hospital Patient and Public Involvement (PPI) Forum, said the move was “simply robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

She said: “The idea of small outpatients' clinics in the community is fantastic but what the PCT have to remember is if Ipswich Hospital loses the tender then they are going to lose funding and they simply can't afford for that to happen.”

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The advert in the Health Service Journal last month invited organisations to express interest in developing Clinical Assessment and Treatment Centres (CATS) in east Suffolk where ophthalmology and ear, nose and throat services would be carried out.

A spokeswoman for the PCT denied that the hospital had not been kept informed and said the centres will help patients by reducing waiting times and offering services closer to their homes.

They will treat patients whose conditions can not be dealt with by a GP but are not complex enough to need hospital treatment, so could include things like treatment for glue ear, sinusitis and skin tags.

Andrew Reed, chief executive of Ipswich Hospital, said: “The PCT's job is to get the best deal for patients, the best service at the best price, and I don't think anybody can argue with that.

“It means that the hospital has got to demonstrate that it can provide these services as well, and as cost-effectively, as anybody else.

“While it obviously represents a risk to the hospital it also represents a positive challenge for us.”