Head and neck: Row erupts over expenses

HEALTH chiefs were today branded as “vindictive” after refusing to reimburse the travel expenses of their volunteer opponents in the battle to save head and neck cancer surgery.

HEALTH chiefs were today branded as “vindictive” after refusing to reimburse the travel expenses of their volunteer opponents in the battle to save head and neck cancer surgery.

Backed by thousands of Evening Star readers, members of the Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group spoke passionately at consultations held across Suffolk in an effort to stop the service being moved from Ipswich Hospital to Norwich.

Normally the unpaid patient champions get their travel expenses returned to them, but the Anglia Cancer Network (ACN), the body which proposed the switch, has ruled they will not be given a penny towards their travel to the meetings, held in Eye, Aldeburgh, Ipswich, Kesgrave, Felixstowe, Bury St Edmunds and Needham Market.

However expenses will be paid to the ACN's staff who were supporting the controversial plans.

The news comes after it also emerged that health bosses told MPs and councillors that “there was no dissent from any party” at the meeting where they made the decision to move the service, despite overwhelming opposition from patients, the public, clinicians, charities and politicians.

Peter Espley, acting chairman of the user group, said: “Not paying the expenses is vindictive.

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“If they really wanted to involve patients in decision making and care about our views, as they say they do, this is not the way to go about it.

“We usually put in travel expenses when we go to conferences such as those run by the ACN and those are paid with no problems.

“Cancer user groups are independent and we get funding from Macmillan via the ACN. We get expenses because user involvement should not be restricted because people can not afford to take part.

“We may not be talking about vast sums of money but because of the distances people were travelling it could be a significant amount.”

Mr Espley said the group had not been invited by the ACN to speak at its consultation meetings but had felt it was important to attend to put forward the views of patients and the public.

He and his colleagues put in expenses claims to the ACN but were told at the end of August: “We will not be paying travel to the Head and Neck Public Consultation meetings which many of you have submitted claims for.”

Should volunteer patient representatives have their travel expenses paid? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

The Anglia Cancer Network's view

A spokesman for Anglia Cancer Network said: “The Anglia Cancer Network's Partnership Group, which is made up of patients and carers (including the Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group), submits a work programme to Macmillan Cancer Support for which a grant is then allocated.

“Expenses which are paid to ACN Partnership representatives are taken from these charitable funds.

“There are strict policies in place which state the money can only be used to support the work of the cancer partnership group as agreed in the work programme, which does not include attending public meetings.

“In this particular case members of Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group attended consultation events of their own free will and as such did not meet the expenses payment criteria policy.”

More controversy

SUFFOLK'S top health boss claimed there were no opposing views voiced when the Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) met to approve plans to move head and neck cancer surgery from Ipswich to Norwich.

Carole Taylor-Brown, the chief executive of Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT), wrote to MPs and councilor David Lockwood, the chairman of Suffolk County Council's health scrutiny committee, which will be discussing the PCT's decision on Tuesday.

In the letter she mentioned the ACN's board meeting and said: “It has been confirmed to me that no formal vote was necessary as there was no dissent from any party, including the provider trusts and patient representatives in regard to the proposals.”

The Evening Star has obtained a copy of the minutes of that board meeting. They show concerns were raised about travel, the loss of cancer services, and the impact on the hospital's trauma service.

Peter Espley, acting chairman of the cancer services user group, said: “We weren't invited to that meeting so we couldn't put forward the patients' views. But to say there was no dissent is twisting it.”

A spokesman for the PCT said: “The minutes of the Anglia Cancer Network board meeting show that patient representatives made a valuable contribution to what was a very constructive discussion and raised appropriate and understandable concerns alongside seeking clarification of the proposals.

“These proposals were then unanimously agreed by the primary care trust's board.

“The minutes record no dissent to the recommendations during the course of the meeting.”

The campaign

THE Evening Star is fighting to keep life-saving head and neck cancer surgery where it belongs - at Ipswich Hospital.

The Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) and Suffolk Primary Care Trust (PCT) have agreed to move the service to Norwich, leaving patients and their loved ones facing a 100-mile round trip at one of the most stressful times of their lives.

They claim the switch is needed to comply with national guidelines which aim to create specialist centres to deal with head and neck cancer.

Expert clinicians at Ipswich Hospital, however, say the move would be catastrophic for patients and the hospital.

They warn the highly-regarded oral and maxillofacial department could be downgraded as a result, meaning it may not be able to deal with facial trauma cases, which could even have an impact on the accident and emergency department.