Farce of cancer care

PENSIONER June Martin has just been diagnosed with cancer - but in her darkest hour, the 68-year-old is being forced to make a 90-mile round trip for her surgery.

Josh Warwick

PENSIONER June Martin has just been diagnosed with cancer - but in her darkest hour, the 68-year-old is being forced to make a 90-mile round trip for her surgery.

Family will not be able to visit her at the time she will need them most and the NHS is having to pay for her transport to the Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford because she has no means of getting there herself.

Mrs Martin's plight is a clear example of what many more people are facing if health bosses ignore the wishes of expert clinicians and patients and continue with a scheme to move head and neck cancer surgery from Ipswich to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The Evening Star's campaign to keep the service local has been boosted by more than 2,000 petition signatures so far.

But it can be revealed Suffolk residents diagnosed with stomach cancer already have to travel to Chelmsford for surgery after a specialist centre was created there.

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Mrs Martin said she was shocked when doctors at Ipswich Hospital revealed she could only undergo life-saving surgery 45 miles away.

The widow, of Norwich Road, said: “I was so angry when I found out. Why is it that people from Ipswich have to leave the town for important treatment? It makes no sense.

“I was shocked when the doctors told me. It's 90 miles there and back - I can't understand what's going on at Ipswich Hospital.

“I have no way of getting there so the hospital will have to spend the money to transport me to Chelmsford. It must be costing the NHS much more this way.”

Mrs Martin said she was planning to lobby her MP, Michael Lord, on the issue.

She added: “When you are in hospital it can be very lonely unless people come to visit you, but if I am in Chelmsford it will be difficult for relatives to get to me. There must be lots of people in the same situation as I am in. It's sad when it comes to this.”

Anglia Cancer Network said different hospitals in the region had been adapted as specialist centres for various types of cancer, allowing patients to receive specific and expert care.

Jan Rowsell, spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital, said health chiefs acknowledged there were difficulties in being forced to travel distances to receive treatment, but said the existing system provided a “gold standard” in care. She said: “Regional centres of excellence are there to give patients the very best standard of care.

“At Ipswich Hospital we have the Stour Centre which is for gynaecology concerns and patients travel from across Essex to attend the centre. We do appreciate people's concerns and everybody works very hard to make sure that as much care as possible is given in the patient's closest hospital.”

Mrs Rowsell added it was only the specialist surgery element which was carried out in regional centres, while the other associated services were provided in Ipswich.

OUR CAMPAIGN SO FAR

THE Evening Star's campaign to save head and neck cancer at Ipswich Hospital is one of the our most successful ever.

Since the unelected and unaccountable Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) announced its intention to scrap the life-saving, and much respected, service at the hospital and transfer it to Norwich more than 2,000 people have signed our petition online or in the paper to fight the changes.

Major flaws in the scheme have also been revealed including ACN bosses admitting there is no published clinical evidence to support the move and also the fact that out-of-date figures about the amount of people having the surgery had been used.

The figures suggested just 66 people had needed the surgery when at least 100 are needed to be a specialist centre. However, those figures came from 2004-2006 - and in 2007 there were more than 80 people needing surgery.

Concerns from expert clinicians include worries the excellent oral and maxillofacial department at Ipswich Hospital could be downgraded if surgeons leave because they cannot carry out the surgery anymore, meaning the hospital could be less equipped to deal with facial trauma - which could ultimately lead to the downgrading of the hospital's accident and emergency department. Numerous peoplehave come out against the plans, including:

Sir Bobby Robson, a former head and neck cancer patient

Ipswich Hospital's oral and maxillofacial consultants Huw Davies and Lynne Fryer

The Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group

The Mouth Cancer Foundation

Tim Yeo MP

Ben Gummer, Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ipswich

Dentists in Ipswich

Ipswich Hospital's public and patient involvement forum

Dozens of head and neck cancer patients

Thousands of concerned members of the public

Top dental expert Professor Brian Avery, from the Faculty of Dental Surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons, who pointed out there are currently no specialist registrars at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and that patients' lives could be put at risk by surgeons having to travel up and down the A140.

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