Surgeon criticises 'under the radar' closure of facial trauma centre
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
A retiring specialist surgeon has criticised Ipswich Hospital for not filling his position, warning it could affect hundreds of patients per year.
Last month Huw Davies, 70, retired from the hospital after 30 years as an oral and maxillofacial surgeon, during which time he hit the headlines for treating Sir Bobby Robson's cancer — after which the pair remained close friends.
Mr Davies said East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust (ESNEFT) was now stopping its facial trauma service "under the radar".
He said: "For the past two and a half years, I've been the only consultant — permanently on call, day and night."
Oral and maxillofacial is a highly specialised branch of medicine which requires surgeons to have degrees in both medicine and dentistry.
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Surgeons in the field may have treat anything to do with the face or jaw, ranging from cleft lips to facial trauma from car crashes and even gunshot wounds.
Now facial trauma patients who would have been treated in Ipswich, will have to be transferred Norwich, Chelmsford or Cambridge for urgent treatment.
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Mr Davies said this could delay treatment for the hundreds of patients who, in the past, would have been treated in Ipswich.
According to Mr Davies, the problem with the oral and maxillofacial department at Ipswich Hospital started with the decision to end head and neck cancer care there in 2008.
He added this left the department "half-baked" and unable to attract new surgeons.
"If the job isn't attractive, someone who's done all that training is not going to be very keen to come and join," he said. "We were not really able to make any substantive appointments.
"We had to make do with locums who come and go. And they've got locums in post now.
"But this is the final straw for the department really. It's heading towards general becoming more of a dental unit, just operating nine to five."
Mr Davies said that if Sir Bobby had been diagnosed with cancer now he would probably have had to have been treated in London rather than Ipswich due to the cutbacks.
"The sad thing about him now, for instance, would be that he couldn't have come to Ipswich for treatment — and Ipswich was everything to him," he said.
Dr Angela Tillett, chief medical officer at East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Mr Huw Davies has treated thousands of patients at Ipswich Hospital throughout his long and distinguished career and we wish him a very happy, imminent retirement.
“Our oral and maxillofacial team continue our planned elective work in this specialty for the majority of patients of our waiting list during the working week at Ipswich Hospital.
“We are also actively exploring options with other hospitals to make sure a small number of patients who need specialist surgical care receive the expert support they need.
“However, we are unable to provide emergency and trauma cover for oral maxillofacial surgery at this time. This will instead be provided by our colleagues at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital until we find a local solution.
“All avenues have been explored with our partners and this is the very best and safest alternative until we appoint a new consultant(s) – the safety of our patients is paramount.”
Bosses at the hospital say work to recruit a new consultant is continuing, despite a nationwide shortage of oral and maxillofacial surgery.