Cancelled operations triple in one year

PATIENTS are feeling the full impact of swingeing health cuts after it emerged cancelled operations at Suffolk's flagship hospital have tripled in a year, it was claimed last night.

Craig Robinson

PATIENTS are feeling the full impact of swingeing health cuts after it emerged cancelled operations at Suffolk's flagship hospital have tripled in a year, it was claimed last night.

An average of two operations a day were postponed at Ipswich Hospital in the first nine of months of 2008 - with most blamed on a shortage of beds. Cancellations have trebled in a year.

Health campaigners last night said this was a direct result of the money saving measures announced by the primary care trust (PCT) in 2005 as they tried to recover crippling debts.

Since then nearly 150 beds have been lost from community hospitals in east Suffolk - including 46 at Hartismere, 16 in Aldeburgh and 84 in Felixstowe, which follows the closure of the Bartlet and the recent re-development of the General.

Meanwhile Ipswich Hospital has also lost 80 beds - bringing its overall capacity to 630.

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Campaigners claim the beds from community hospitals could have been used by patients recovering from surgery to free up more space at Heath Road for those awaiting treatment - reducing the need to postpone procedures.

According to latest figures, 550 operations were cancelled at Ipswich Hospital between January and September this year, compared to 188 for the same period in 2007 and 208 for the nine months in 2006.

Prue Rush, former spokeswoman of the now disbanded Ipswich Hospital Patient Public Involvement Forum, said: “When we all started fighting to save our community hospitals this is exactly what we said would happen.

“There are just not enough beds available. The hospital obviously can't send a patient home until they are properly recovered and if they can't move them out then they can't take patients in.

“I know there is now a lot of day surgery work - which has its advantages - but if something goes wrong then the patient will have to stay in longer, which obviously can have a domino effect further down the line on others waiting for an operation.

“However if the beds were available in places such as Hartismere and Felixstowe then it would alleviate some of that pressure. Patients could be moved on to recover rather than taking up beds that are needed for operations.”

Roy Gray, chairman of the Save Our Felixstowe Hospitals action group, continued: “This just proves our point - places like the Bartlet are invaluable.

“The situation seems to be getting worse. We've got to do something because there's no where to put patients in Ipswich.

“I don't blame the hospital for this - it's higher than that. They seem to always have to meet targets to get rid of people two or three days after their arrival.

“This is fine if there are no problems but when patients have a complication then there is trouble. This is when somewhere like the Bartlet is perfect because people don't necessarily need medical care but they do need TLC, just to have someone walking around and checking that they are OK.

“The whole system is wrong - the situation will only go on and on and more operations will be cancelled if things stay the same.”

Last night a spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said a shortage of beds during busy periods and staff illness were the main reasons behind cancelled operations.

“One cancelled operation is one too many,” she said. “We take cancellations extremely seriously and everyone at the trust is very upset when we have to rearrange because we recognise the stress it can cause to patients.

“Often these events are unplanned and beyond our control - for example if a member of the team is off sick or if we are particularly busy.”

She said the number of cancelled operations was a small percentage of the admissions for surgery and procedures - which in 2007/08 was around 39,000 people.

“We are seeing patients faster and so are treating more people,” she said. “So although the numbers are higher this year it is a low percentage of the number of admissions we actually see. However we are not complacent and are working hard to see how we can improve.”

Dawn Godbold, head of adult services at NHS Suffolk, said cancellations happened for a number of reasons and operations ranged from small procedures to major treatments.

“With such a wide range of factors affecting operations, it is too simplistic to draw a link between the cancellation of operations and the number of beds available within the community,” she said.

There had been much investment in community hospitals over recent years and 128 beds were still available across the county, she added.

“We work closely with our acute hospitals to identify patients suitable for transfer to community beds,” she continued. “In that way, we can make best use of the capacity available to us while ensuring that all of our patients are receiving care in the most appropriate setting for their individual needs.”

HEALTH campaigner Roy Gray has first hand experience of the growing number of cancelled operations at Ipswich Hospital - having had his own procedure postponed just hours before going into theatre.

Mr Gray, 68, of High Road West, Felixstowe, was originally due to go under the knife on October 15.

However following his arrival at Heath Road he was told he would have to come back at a later date because there were no beds available.

He eventually had surgery last Tuesday and came out on Friday and is recovering at home with his wife.

“I phoned up the night before and I was told to come in - I was there for three and a half hours and then sent away because they said there were no beds,” Mr Gray said. “Three weeks later I was admitted. I spoke to some doctors and they told me 20 patients had to go back because there were only two beds available. They were turning people away.

“To have your operation cancelled is very upsetting. For myself it wasn't too bad - I'm retired so I didn't have to organise any time off work and I've had dealings with hospitals in the past so I knew what to expect - but for those of a nervous disposition it can be extremely worrying.

“You don't sleep too well before a serious operation. You get yourself prepared for it in your mind and then you're told it's not happening - it's dreadful.”

However Mr Gray was quick to praise hospital staff for the care he received, although he said he has written to chief executive Andrew Reed about the bed situation.

“I don't blame the hospital - the care I received was superb and the nurses were first class - but all I heard while I was there was about the lack of beds,” he said. “This is why somewhere like the Bartlet in Felixstowe is so important because it frees up space. Patients can be transferred across to recuperate so the beds at Ipswich can be used for those needing operations.

“I was in there probably 12 or 16 hours longer than they thought - that costs a bed. It only takes a few delays and everything builds up.”