Evening Star says it's time to act, minister

Here is The Evening Star's open letter to Health Secretary Alan Johnson in which we demand a re-think of proposals to take serious heart attack patients to hospitals on the other side of the region.

The Evening Star's open letter to Health Secretary Alan Johnson in which we demand a re-think of proposals to take serious heart attack patients to hospitals on the other side of the region.

Dear Mr Johnson,

Today is an important one for you and your beleaguered colleagues in government.

As you and your cabinet friends wrestle with all the problems of an angry electorate in the MPs expenses scandal, you can start to re-build just a little of the faith that has been lost.

It is a day when you can stand up for right against wrong, for common sense over dictat and dogma.

It is a day when you can do one of the most powerful things that can befall any human being - you can make a move which could save lives.

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Here's a short background to the heart healthcare crisis unfolding in Suffolk, as you know, a wonderful county, with a unique geography, in the east of England.

As will become clear and vitally important later in the letter, our county has no motorways (part of its charm) and poor trunk road connections in many areas.

As an example, it might take up to 50 car journey minutes to reach Ipswich from the coastal hamlet of Bawdsey, just 12 miles away as the crow flies.

In the mid-1990's, Suffolk had an ailing ambulance service, the East Anglian Ambulance Trust. Then, an Evening Star investigation and campaign led to a public inquiry - and the chief executive left his post as changes were brought in to bring response times up-to-speed.

Reminding you of the chaos of yesteryear is important - because changes ordered then, by your Labour predecessor, Frank Dobson, allowed one of the country's best ambulance services to emerge.

We are now, rightly, proud of the 999 crews of the East of England Ambulance Service, despite the many pressures they face.

One of the service's accomplishments has been for crews to administer clot-busting drugs to serious heart attack victims … in a pioneering link with doctors at our world-class Ipswich Hospital through its new Garrett Anderson accident and emergency centre.

So, despite 999 journeys lengthened in some cases by road quality and distance, Ipswich Hospital has become the third best centre for heart attack survival in the country.

The NHS and two partner agencies have worked brilliantly together - and lives have been saved.

Fast forward to June 1 this year - just a couple of weeks away. From then a new regional serious heart attack treatment policy is being instigated - great for the region, maybe, but a certain disaster for Suffolk as all that has been gained will be lost.

New, regional, serious heart condition “labs” have been set up. But the problem is that strategic health bosses in faraway Cambridge have not located one of them in Ipswich.

However they shape their maps and graphs - and however they extend the heart attack survival time limits - they cannot make the set-up work for Suffolk.

Suffolk is one great big “black hole” in their thinking. And they know it.

This newspaper, like many others, thinks the new PPCI lab system may be brilliant for parts of the region - but not for Suffolk, unless Ipswich Hospital is allowed to establish a PPCI centre.

The heart of this story can best be told by returning to Bawdsey, or many other places in and around Ipswich.

Serious heart attack patients will be picked by 999 crews (after a journey time of up to 25 minutes to get there) who will now not administer any life-saving drugs.

Furthermore, they will not be taken to Ipswich Hospital.

In their pain and their terror, with bewildered relatives trying to play catch-up by car or taxi, they will go on road journeys of up to 80 miles.

Who knows if they will make it in time? Who know how many cases will end up tragically?

Just to underscore the folly of all this:

1. If a “moderate” heart attack victim is already in Ipswich Hospital when the conditions worsens to “serious” an ambulance will be called for transfer to the PPCI centre.

2. Doctors and paramedics will be told not to treat him or her with drugs - a dash to Norwich, far west of Cambridge, or Basildon, Essex, will be ordained.

3. If a serious patient, who arrives under his or her own steam, is sitting next to a moderate patient - the victim in the better condition will get the clot-busting drugs - and the worse off one will be bundled off down the road with nothing other than hope and a prayer.

Finally, Ipswich is a thriving, modern, urban area with more than 350,000 people living within a ten-mile radius of the town centre.

And, crucially, it is a growing area with new homes being built, a new university and further education college attracting people from across the country, and increasing facilities being developed for older people who see this as an attractive location in which to retire.

It is a classic example of the Britain Gordon Brown wants to see emerging.

He came here just a few weeks ago and was impressed by Ipswich and its growth and Fightback from recession.

Yet the government, through the Strategic Health Authority and NHS Suffolk, seems determined to reduce the services available at Ipswich Hospital - and put the population of East Suffolk in much greater danger.

We suggest you look at the SHA plans in detail and consider alternatives. We will be providing you with the detailed questions which need to be answered.

Meanwhile, why not ask the SHA to look at a plan based on adding the populations of north Essex, including Colchester, Clacton, and Harwich, with those of Suffolk?

The population within a 40-minute journey time of Ipswich hospital would then be 750,000 … large enough for one of the new centres.

Stop the proposals now - and order a full review, with widespread consultation.

Yours sincerely,

Nigel Pickover, Editor

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