Fears grow over heart centre plans

CONCERNS are today growing about the controversial decision to treat Suffolk's heart attack patients outside the county.

Rebecca Lefort

CONCERNS are today growing about the controversial decision to treat Suffolk's heart attack patients outside the county.

Patients and politicians have voiced their anger at the move, which will mean people will need to be taken to specialist heart centres at least 60 miles away, rather than treated by paramedics and taken to Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Duncan McNab, a consultant cardiologist who works at both Ipswich Hospital and Papworth Hospital, said the specialist heart centres would improve care in the East of England.

But he warned patients in parts of Suffolk would not see the same level of treatment as those near these primary angioplasty centres, in Norwich, Papworth and Basildon, because it would take them much longer to get there.

He called for the changes to be heavily scrutinised once they come into effect, on June 1, to make sure patients were safe.

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Dr McNab said: “As the journey time goes up death rates do go up - there's no doubt about it.

“Are our patients so far from a primary angioplasty site that they will lose the benefit?

“It is impossible to have a centre every ten miles down the road which would make it completely fair, so we have to find a compromise.

“This is such a grey area; you put four cardiologists in a room and you get five different opinions.

“I think this is an uplift in treatment for the patients in Suffolk. The issue is that it is not the same uplift in care for them that it is for people in Cambridge, Norwich and Essex.”

Dr McNab said he had attended meetings of health bosses to put the point of Suffolk patients across, and had suggested keeping the highly-regarded clot-busting technique currently administered by paramedics before patients are taken to Ipswich Hospital available as an option.

But he was told having two different systems in the east would confuse paramedics.

Dr McNab said it was not currently viable to create a specialist cardiac centre at Ipswich as well as Norfolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, because the Heath Road site did not have the sufficient skill base or enough consultant interventionist cardiologists to provide the service 24/7.

However he said if the new system did not help Suffolk patients he would urgently call for a part-time primary angioplasty centre to be created, or the system of clot-busting in ambulances to be brought back.

Are you concerned about the plans? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Background

CURRENTLY anyone who suffers a serious, life-threatening heart attack in Suffolk is thrombolysed - given clot-busting drugs - either in an ambulance or at hospital.

The technique is more successful if carried out by paramedics, and the East of England Ambulance Service's performance is considered to be the best in the country.

From June 1 all patients will be treated in three specialist heart attack centres, created by the East of England Specialised to Commission Group (SCG).

The SCG say the establishment of the Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention centres (PPCI) will save an estimated 50 lives a year in the east of England.

Treatment times and patient outcomes will be closely audited to ensure the highest possible level of care, it adds

The centres provide primary angioplasty, a technique which uses a balloon catheter to open up blocked blood vessels in the heart.

It is recommended that they are set up at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Cambridgeshire's Papworth Hospital and Essex's Basildon Hospital - not in Suffolk.

Health bosses also propose that the method of thrombolysing patients be stopped, so all heart attack patients in Suffolk will have to travel to one of the new centres.

However, the angioplasty is only effective if administered quickly enough.

Heart tissue starts to die 15 to 20 minutes after a heart attack begins, so getting treatment quickly is vital.

Data shows those treated within 120 minutes of a call are more likely to survive than those that wait up to 165 minutes, which is the target set for parts of Suffolk.

Once patients have been treated at the heart attack centres they will typically stay between 24 and 48 hours before being taken home or back to Ipswich Hospital.

The Heath Road site will continue to provide other cardiology services and is hoping to expand its cardiology team in the near future.

Councillor's view

POLITICIANS in Ipswich have been left appalled by plans to treat emergency heart attack patients in Suffolk at specialist centres in other counties.

And they are concerned that because the up-coming local elections on June 4 mean council business effectively shuts down over the next month, the controversial proposals will not be subject to proper scrutiny.

Ipswich Borough Council's deputy leader, Conservative John Carnall, said: “It is an absolute disgrace that something like this is happening without consultation with the people of Ipswich.

“To suggest people should be travelling vast distances to heart attack centres is wholly unbelievable.

“It is putting lives at risk and it is a scandal that people in Ipswich will not get the same level of care as those in other parts of East Anglia.”

Andrew Cann, leader of the Liberal Democrats in Ipswich, criticised Ipswich MP, Chris Mole. Mr Mole had said he understood why the decision to treat heart attack patients in centres of excellence such as those in Norwich had been taken, but that if once the changes were introduced they proved bad for the people of Ipswich he would ask for the plans to be reviewed.

Mr Cann said: “I can't believe that Chris Mole is advocating trying out these new arrangements to see if they'll work.

“How many unwarranted deaths does he think will have to happen before his Labour government funds emergency (within two hours) angioplasty in Suffolk? One is too many.”

Meanwhile Judy Terry, Conservative Ipswich Borough councillor, said: ““With heart attacks the UK's biggest killer, and survival dependent on rapid specialist treatment, it appears that the Government's regional commissioning group thinks that the residents of this region are expendable, being deprived of a specialist centre. To call this irresponsible is an understatement.

“It is time for the people of Ipswich and the surrounding communities across east Suffolk, who rely on Ipswich Hospital to care for their family and friends, to make their voices heard.”

Impact on family

JOHN Wragg has twice seen his wife, Hazel, suffer a heart attack and need urgent treatment at Ipswich Hospital.

Now he is worried that if she has a third attack he will not be able to stay with her during the ordeal because she will be whisked off to Norwich, Papworth or Basildon.

Mr Wragg, 62, of Poppy Close, Chantry, Ipswich, said as he could not drive he would not be able to travel with his wife under the new plans, because he would have no way of getting back home.

The retired grandfather added: “In the past my wife has had two heart attacks and a minor stroke and after dialling 999 was in hospital being assessed and given clot busting drugs within 20 minutes.

“I have been lucky enough to have been able to travel in the ambulance with her but I would still face the prospect of getting home again.

“And we all know that when someone has a heart attack they are worried enough without having to worry about their partner as well.

“It will be very distressing for both the person who has the heart attack, and knows they have a long way to travel, maybe on their own, and on their relatives who will no be able to be with them.”