Doctors' warning over cancer proposals

TOP doctors today issued a stark warning that scrapping pancreatic cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital could be disastrous for patients and the hospital.

TOP doctors today issued a stark warning that scrapping pancreatic cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital could be disastrous for patients and the hospital.

Health bosses want to move the complex surgery from Ipswich to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge in a bid to improve the cancer's extremely low survival rate by creating a centre of excellence.

However Ipswich's specialist consultants, David Rae and Martin Sinclair, said patients in Suffolk would be put at risk because the hospital would lose vital skills.

Mr Rae, praised by Ipswich Hospital's chief executive Andrew Reed as one of the country's best surgeons when he won the hospital hero of the year title at the Stars of Suffolk awards last year, said he was appalled at the move, which is being pushed through by the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group (SCG).

He said he would consider leaving if it got the final go-ahead.

He added: “There will be a significant impact on the calibre of junior staff and consultant staff will leave.

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“There will be de-skilling and clinicians will not feel able to deal with other non-cancer conditions.

“By the end of the year the surgical services offered by this hospital will be at their lowest level of complexity.

“And those making the decisions are doing it despite there being ample evidence now that centralisation does not produce the best results.

“It is particularly upsetting because peer review has shown Ipswich Hospital's pancreatic cancer surgery results to be outstanding so we know it is a political decision, not a patient safety one.”

Meanwhile Mr Sinclair, Ipswich Hospital's chair of the general surgery and gastroenterology business unit, said: “I am concerned it will de-skill the hospital in terms of its ability to provide care for other complex surgical services.

“In reality patients with non-cancer conditions may get a worse service at Ipswich because people making the decisions haven't thought about the knock-on effects.”

Mr Sinclair said he too had not ruled out leaving and warned that retaining and recruiting skilled staff in the future may be difficult, impacting the hospital's ability to treat more common conditions such as gallstones and acute pancreatitis.

Ipswich Hospital did bid to become the specialist centre for pancreatic cancer surgery in the East of England, but the SCG said Addenbrooke's was better suited.

However Mr Sinclair pointed out that neither centre fully complied with national best-practice guidelines, and said that taking the surgery away from Addenbrooke's would have less of a negative impact on that hospital than Ipswich because surgeons in Cambridge carry out other complex upper gastrointestinal procedures, meaning they would not lose as many skills.

The plans to scrap pancreatic cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital are currently the subject of a public consultation.

For more information, including consultation documents and feedback forms, visit, contact Ros Stevenson on 01371 877265 or e-mail

Are you worried about moves to carry out pancreatic cancer surgery in Cambridge? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail

Ipswich Hospital's view:

ANDREW Reed, chief executive of Ipswich Hospital, said: “It is a really tough time for the hospital what with the head and neck debate last year, the pancreatic debate and the discussion about heart attack care.

“There is a national policy of centralising services which is about ensuring surgeons do the right number of operations and I won't question that motivation.

“But it is really tough for hospitals like us which live in the shadow of places like Cambridge. It is always going to be hard to hang on to these services.

“If we lose specialist services there is always a risk it is going to hurt morale.

“In being disappointed about the threat to five to ten per cent of what we do we have to make sure we don't lose our focus on the other 90 to 95pc.”

Pancreatic cancer

Pancreatic cancer is a rare cancer with around 7,600 new cases a year diagnosed in the UK.

Pancreatic cancer mainly appears in older people with 75 per cent of patients aged 65 or over.

The chances of having pancreatic cancer are fairly low - around 1 in 96 for men and 1 in 95 for women.

It has the lowest survival chances of any cancer and is the sixth most common cause of all cancer deaths.

The latest figures published suggest that only around 13pc patients survive beyond 12 months after diagnosis and only 2 to 3pc of patients survive beyond five years.

SOURCE: East of England Specialised Commissioning Group

East of England Specialised Commissioning Group's views:

DR Rory Harvey, consultant medical physician and chairman of the pancreatic cancer project steering group - part of the SCG - said: “We are currently in a period of consultation about the proposed changes to services for pancreatic cancer.

“The independent expert clinical review upon which the proposal is based was focused on how we are going to improve survival chances for patients with pancreatic cancer.

“The consultation process asks for wider views on the possible impact of the proposal and how patients and others may be affected.

“As part of the consultation process, we are meeting with the specialist team at Ipswich Hospital to listen to their views and these will be taken into account in reaching a final decision.”

Head and neck cancer

CONSULTANTS bravely speaking out to save services at Ipswich Hospital is not a new phenomenon.

Last year Lynne Fryer and Huw Davies, the hospital's oral and maxillofacial consultants, joined with The Evening Star, patient groups, charities, politicians, medical bodies and more than 3,000 members of the public in campaigning against plans to move head and neck cancer surgery to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Ultimately the surgery was moved regardless and now the doctors' warning of a knock-on impact on other services is emerging as a reality.

Already the department has lost key staff members and is struggling to recruit more doctors because it is not a high-profile centre. It is also failing to treat minor conditions quickly enough because it does not have the staff or resources available to do so.

Miss Fryer, who said she was still considering leaving, said: “People have gone and haven't been replaced and we don't have the infrastructure or staff to do everything.

“The real problem facing the department long term is that we won't be able to continue to provide a trauma service.

“The hospital is being downgraded. It is a terrible shame and it is awful for all the staff who won't be able to go anywhere else.”

Further problems for Ipswich Hospital

THOUSANDS of Ipswich Hospital patients could be sent elsewhere because it is unable to cope with national targets.

Failures to treat people quickly enough mean the hospital is taking drastic steps to hit targets, including outsourcing patients to other hospitals - both private and NHS - increasing doctors' workloads, and bringing in foreign medics to carry out operations.

The changes, which will cost the hospital more than �5million in additional fees, will see more than 1,300 patients treated at other hospitals, including West Suffolk Hospital, Addenbrooke's and Papworth in Cambridgeshire and Ipswich's Nuffield Hospital.

Jan Rowsell, Ipswich Hospital spokeswoman, said that the hospital was committed to meeting waiting time targets, including treating 90 per cent of patients within 18 weeks of referral, which it is currently failing to do.

She added that those patients treated outside the hospital represented only a small proportion of the 70,000 elective operations carried out on the site each year, and stressed that any doctors coming from abroad to work in the hospital would be subject to rigours checks.

Heart attack care:

A GROUP of politicians today spoke out about plans to treat emergency heart attack victims outside of Suffolk.

The Suffolk County Council Labour group called on health bosses to make sure the controversial decision went before the county's health scrutiny committee's first meeting on July 20, before any changes were pushed through.

Kevan Lim, deputy leader of the group said: “This is not a political issue. This is a question of what is best for people in Ipswich and East Suffolk.

“In the light of the massive public concern about the transfer of certain heart attacks to specialist centres outside Suffolk, the health service needs to provide a full and frank examination of the implications of these changes for people in Suffolk at the meeting.”

The East of England Specialised Commissioning Group has set up specialist heart attack centres in Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex where it wants urgent heart victims to be treated, but have refused to set one up in Suffolk.

But patients have warned that the long journey times will leave them at risk and that Ipswich Hospital should be made a specialist centre too.

However, the plans, which were due to be implemented on June 1, are now the subject of a review following an Evening Star campaign.

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