Clash over cancer move

AN INDEPENDENT cancer expert walked out of a meeting about the future of head and neck cancer surgery in Suffolk yesterday after clashing with a health chief.

AN INDEPENDENT cancer expert walked out of a meeting about the future of head and neck cancer surgery in Suffolk yesterday after clashing with a health chief.

Professor Ian Hutchinson left Suffolk's health scrutiny committee after a series of heated exchanges with Suffolk Primary Care Trust's (PCT) chief executive, Carole Taylor-Brown.

He accused her of talking more about numbers than patients as they discussed controversial plans to move head and neck cancer surgery from Ipswich Hospital to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Professor Hutchinson, a consultant in oral and maxillofacial surgery at St Bartholomew's and the Royal London Hospitals, had been invited to speak at yesterday's key meeting.

During his speech, he voiced concern that consultation into the plans had gone ahead without data on survival outcomes at the hospitals, and with too large an emphasis on the number of people treated at centres, rather than their success rates.

He accused the Anglia Cancer Network (ACN), which yesterday voted at its private board meeting in Newmarket to push ahead with the move, and PCT, of failing to address these issues and of refusing to consider the possibility of moving all surgery from Norwich to Ipswich.

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He said: “The ACN document seems to be very one-dimensional because it just talks about numbers of patients and the populations. But wouldn't it be better to place the emphasis on outcomes?

“We're at the end of your consultation period, and you've had months to find the figures, but you don't have them. I think you haven't done due diligence.

“I do believe in centralisation but I believe in centralisation to a centre where there are excellent outcomes.”

Mrs Taylor-Brown argued with Professor Hutchinson and said: “The PCT as the local commissioner has to look at every option. The PCT would have liked to have seen the services remain.”

However she stressed that Ipswich Hospital did not comply with national guidelines which say hospitals need to treat 100 new patients a year and have a catchment area of one million.

But while Mrs Taylor-Brown was speaking about the PCT's role, Professor Hutchinson stood up and said: “I can't bear to listen to this any further, please excuse me. You're not talking about the patients, just the numbers, and I can't contribute any more.”

Speaking outside the meeting he said: “I didn't have an axe to grind, I don't know the area but I know that patients should get the best outcomes.

“You can treat 1,000 patients and still not be a good centre.”

During the four-hour meeting at Ipswich's Endeavour House it also emerged that Ipswich Hospital has a five-year survival rate for head and neck cancer surgery which is above the national average.

Ipswich Hospital's oral and maxillofacial surgeons, Huw Davies and Lynne Fryer, said new data showed their success rate was 62%, while the last national figures recorded showed a five-year survival rate of 42% for men and 52% for women.

At the end of the meeting the committee agreed to ask a panel of independent surgeons to study the evidence behind the ACN's decision to move the surgery to Norwich.

Suffolk PCT will now make a final decision at its board meeting on July 30 and the scrutiny committee can refer that to the health secretary if it feels it is wrong for the people of Suffolk.