Head and neck questions remain

OVER the last few months this newspaper and health professionals at Ipswich Hospital have raised serious questions about the headlong rush to move head and neck cancer surgery to Norwich.

OVER the last few months this newspaper and health professionals at Ipswich Hospital have raised serious questions about the headlong rush to move head and neck cancer surgery to Norwich.

Time and again issues have been raised about the figures that the Anglia Cancer Network and the Suffolk PCT have used to justify the move.

Time and again the organisations - in the form of their head Carole Taylor-Brown - have insisted that these figures have been irrelevant in the decision-making process.

It became clear only recently that the “consultation” process over the move of head and neck cancer surgery to Norwich was a complete sham.

The ACN and PCT had been given their orders to move services to Norwich by the strategic health authority and any pretence at consultation was a fig-leaf to hide the fact that the decision had already been made.

But the latest revelations are not about the number of people treated or the number of staff with surgical experience, they are about something much more fundamental.

Most Read

At this late stage it has finally emerged that people being treated at Ipswich are much more likely to survive than they are at other hospitals.

Survival rates at Ipswich are between 10 and 20 per cent higher than the national average - and yet Mrs Taylor-Brown and the health administrators still want to stop head and neck cancer surgery at the hospital.

They believe that surgery should be delivered in one place - Norwich.

One major concern for many people is that taking away head and neck cancer surgery will have a devastating knock-on effect on other departments.

Surgeons, doctors and nurses faced with losing this service may be less inclined to want to come or stay at Ipswich - so other head and neck treatment could be affected, and this drift of talent could affect other areas of critical care.

Astonishingly, all this comes at a time when Ipswich Hospital was supposed to be on a high - with the opening of its state-of-the-art critical care unit, The Garrett Anderson Centre (check)

That is a real concern of Ipswich MP Chris Mole in opposing the switch as currently proposed. He, like The Evening Star, believes that a compromise, in the form of working in harmony with the team in Norfolk, should be found.

But that doesn't fit with the “black and white” guidelines that the eastern area Strategic Health Authority is laying down.

Common sense is being overruled by health service dogma.

We believe the decision to move head and neck cancer surgery is not caring for the people of Suffolk, and we understand why today senior MP John Gummer has said Mrs Taylor-Brown should be considering her position at both the PCT and the ACN.

There was always going to be a conflict of interest with one person holding the two jobs - campaigners found they were rather like a defendant turning up in court and finding that the judge was doubling-up as the prosecution lawyer!

That was an invidious position for anyone to be put in from the very start of this process.

Of course there needs to be an eye to the costs of treatment - but government auditors admit it is very difficult to keep tabs on the NHS's £100 billion budget.

That is an issue health minister Lord Darzai is looking at, but the solution must not be closing high-performing departments when the alternative is an unknown quantity.

Of course there needs to be consideration about building up centres of excellence to treat rare conditions that most doctors may only come across once or twice a year.

But these concerns must always play second fiddle to the basic requirement of the NHS - to make sick people better.

Meanwhile, is it not also time that the strategic health authority was disbanded?

It is an organisation which seems to act as a barrier between the health professionals treating patients and their ultimate masters in London.

It is unelectable and yet decides how our health service is organised - and when it invites us to comment on an issue it has already made up its mind before the question was ever asked!

That's not what most people regard as democracy!