Heart attack care scrapped in Ipswich

PATIENTS suffering heart attacks will soon be facing races for life in the back of ambulances because they can no longer be treated at Ipswich Hospital, it can be revealed today.

PATIENTS suffering heart attacks will soon be facing races for life in the back of ambulances because they can no longer be treated at Ipswich Hospital, it can be revealed today.

Health bosses in the east have quietly pushed through the dramatic changes which mean from June 1 all heart attack victims will have to be treated at specialist centres at least 60 miles away, in either Norfolk, Cambridgeshire or Basildon.

The shocking move would even see people living in Heath Road, next door to Ipswich Hospital's respected emergency department, whisked away from their local hospital and treated far away from their loved ones.

Their lives would be in the hands of the notoriously unreliable A140, the accident-hotspot A14 or the A12 - branded one of the country's worst roads.

Because although the new specialist heart attack centres provide better care than the current model, they only save lives IF people get there quickly enough.

This latest step towards a postcode lottery of care means patients in Suffolk once again lose out to the big boys of East Anglia's health system and a Strategic Health Authority which appears determined to centralise more and more care, but never at Ipswich Hospital.

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The plans have caused anger among health campaigners, charities, politicians and medics, while Ipswich Hospital itself protested and warned those living furthest away from the new high-tech centres could be disadvantaged.

The politicians are particularly upset at the underhand way in which the changes have been pushed through, without a proper public consultation.

Unless The Evening Star had uncovered the proposals in the board papers of the little-known health body, the East of England Specialised Commissioning Group (SCG), patients would have been none-the-wiser until the plans had actually come into effect.

The group talked in private meetings about the plans, which they knew were opposed by medics in Ipswich, and refused all counter suggestions, such as retaining Ipswich Hospital's current service, or creating a part-time specialist centre in Ipswich.

It claimed the change had been scrutinised because it was one of 64 proposals in the 'Towards the Best Together' document, and even then it was not clear what the impact of creating the centres would be on Suffolk patients.

A spokeswoman for the SCG said: "The introduction of PPCI is a central recommendation of 'Towards the Best Together', the clinical vision for the NHS in the East of England for the next decade, and is part of the National Infarct Angioplasty Project (NIAP) to improve outcomes for heart attack patients across the country.

“The proposals in 'Towards the Best Together' were the subject of extensive consultation last year which directly involved more than 7,000 people across the region and included a structured public opinion survey of 2,500 people, 86 local meetings, structured sample survey of 1,000 staff, 77 detailed submissions from stakeholder groups and a series of meetings with the Joint Overview and Scrutiny Committee who took evidence from leading clinicians.

“The final detailed proposal for PPCI in the east of England are completely consistent with the model included in 'Towards the Best Together'."

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

The changes

Currently anyone who suffers a heart attack in Suffolk is thrombolysed - given clot-busting drugs - either in an ambulance or at hospital.

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).

These Primary Percutaneous Coronary Intervention centres (PPCI) provide angioplasty, a technique which uses a balloon catheter to open up blocked blood vessels in the heart.

Health bosses believe this improved method will save nearly one life a week in the East.

But they recommended setting the centres up at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Cambridgeshire's Papworth Hospital and Essex's Basildon Hospital - not in Suffolk, despite pleas from doctors in our county.

They also recommended 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.

Originally medics said it should be performed within 120 minutes of the emergency services receiving a call about a heart attack.

The SCG then controversially increased that time limit to 165 minutes, which it believes will cover all 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.

Latest blow for Ipswich Hospital

HEART attack victims will be the latest to join a list of patients who will no longer be able to be cared for at Ipswich Hospital.

Last year health bosses scrapped head and neck cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital despite opposition from clinicians, patients, charities, politicians, dentists, medical bodies, and Sir Bobby Robson.

Now head and neck patients travel to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, where treatment has been centralised, for their surgery.

Soon it appears pancreatic cancer surgery will also no longer be performed at Heath Road. The topic is the subject of a current consultation, with health bosses planning on moving the surgery to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Extremely sick babies also have to be transferred out of Ipswich Hospital, which has a level II neonatal unit, and transferred to more specialist units, normally in Norwich or Cambridge, for care in a level III unit.

However Ipswich is highly respected in many areas and has become a specialist centre for gynaecological cancer.

It is also leading centre for spinal surgery, internationally renowned for diabetes, its cancer centre is pinoneering and it was one of the first in the country to use image-guided radiotherapy.

It is working towards become a beacon for the care of older people while its �26million Garrett Anderson Centre provides state of the art, cutting edge emergency care and day surgery and critical care.

Charity's view

PLANS to treat all heart attack victims outside of Suffolk have caused worry and outrage among patients.

Heartbeat East Suffolk, which supports people with heart problems in the region, said it was extremely disappointed Ipswich Hospital had missed out on becoming a specialist heart attack centre.

Len Tate from the group said: “We are dismayed to learn that Ipswich Hospital has not been proposed to be a heart centre, despite the support and evidence of the cardiologists and GPs.

“While we understand the large investment involved in setting up these centres in order to achieve a better long-term outcome, we do not believe that the initial mapping service took fully into account the future increase in proposed building projects along with a growing population within a largely rural county, in arriving at their decision to propose Norwich, Papworth and Basildon as the only centres.

“With our region being of a rural nature and with uncertain travel times, it affords a black hole in relation to travel times and patient outcomes.

“There is a distinct possibility that we may well see patients being driven along bumpy roads in which the longer you travel, it may have a negative impact on the patient's condition.

“We believe the decision has been made without due care and attention. There are always arguments on investment and staff, but we the patients and carers firmly believe that a special cardiac facility is needed in Ipswich and should be commissioned in order to afford the best possible patient care and pathway within our community.”

Politicians' views

BEN Gummer, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ipswich, is already pushing to make sure people in Ipswich have access to the same cardiac care as those in Norwich, Cambridge and Basildon.

Mr Gummer said he was worried people would die in the back of ambulances as they raced for treatment in far-flung cardiac centres.

And he called on health bosses to reconsider the decision not to place a specialist resource in Ipswich.

“The decision not to site a PPCI centre at Ipswich Hospital is irresponsible,” he said.

“This is not a complex medical debate - heart attacks are the biggest killer in the UK and more people here in Ipswich would survive them if they could have treatment at a specialist centre here in the town, not miles away at the end of an unreliable road.

“I want to make sure that if anyone in our town has a heart attack they have the best chance of survival.

“The lives of people in Ipswich are being chanced on the traffic on the A140. I have no doubt that people will die in ambulances unable to make it to the hospitals on time.”

Meanwhile Ipswich's MP, Labour politician Chris Mole, said: "The difficulty is in putting in place the right number of centres when there are some parts of the region where travel times may be compromised by congestion.

"My view would be that if over a period of time they find that patients from Suffolk and north east Essex can't be got to PPCI centres then they should return to the question of providing pre-hospital thrombolysis or consider Ipswich for a part time PPCI centre.

"Until there is evidence one way or another I think it is hard to clinically justify a PPCI centre in Ipswich.

"But I can understand why the arguments are there."

Integral leader:

IPSWICH Hospital boasts some of the best healthcare provision on the planet, let alone the UK.

So how can it be that a patient in cardiac arrest is ferried along unreliable roads to another town or city instead of receiving treatment on their own doorstep?

Were it a 20-minute ride along a motorway, it might be a different story.

But the A140 is one of the worst A roads in Britain while the A12 and A14 are not much better.

The plans have been blasted by health campaigners, charities, politicians and medics, while Ipswich Hospital itself has protested against them.

This is the latest slap in the face to the people of Suffolk following the controversial scrapping of head and neck cancer and pancreatic cancer services at Ipswich Hospital.

We say this latest proposal which seems once again to favour those living outside of Suffolk is wrong, ill thought out and utterly irresponsible