Help us, secretary of state

YOU'RE the only man that can help us now, Mr Johnson.After the Suffolk health scrutiny committee unanimously voted yesterday to scrap head and neck cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital the only chance left in the battle to keep the vital service is for the health secretary, Alan Johnson, to step in for the sake of the people of Suffolk.

YOU'RE the only man that can help us now, Mr Johnson.

After the Suffolk health scrutiny committee unanimously voted yesterday to scrap head and neck cancer surgery at Ipswich Hospital the only chance left in the battle to keep the vital service is for the health secretary, Alan Johnson, to step in for the sake of the people of Suffolk.

The Evening Star is asking him to use his power to look again at the decision which could have a terrible knock-on effect on the hospital and has been opposed by more than 3,000 people who signed a petition against the move.

And today there are also fears that the loss of the service could be the first of many at the hospital, as members of the very scrutiny committee that put the final nail in the coffin admitted they were worried for Ipswich Hospital's future.

Neonatal care and spinal injuries services at hospitals in the East of England are currently being reviewed by the SHA, meanwhile colorectal cancer is due to be considered soon.

Peter Espley, acting chairman of the Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group, said he was extremely upset at the scrutiny committee's decision, but did not think the user group would ask for a judicial review.

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He said: “I'm disappointed that the views of the patients have not been taken into account.

“The committee said they were making the decision in the best interests of patients, but it is not what patients want.

“Only those inside NHS organisations wanted this. The scrutiny committee didn't consider the impact the move will have on trauma services.

“We are already looking at what they might want to take away next.”

However Alastair McWhirter, the chief executive of Suffolk PCT which wanted to see head and neck cancer surgery moved to Norwich, said the future of Ipswich Hospital was not in doubt, although he admitted a policy of centralisation would continue.

He said: “I cannot envisage a situation where Ipswich Hospital would not be a thriving district general hospital.

“There will be changes in the way health is delivered across all sorts of things and I think centralisation overall will continue as a mechanism for delivering some services.

“Ipswich Hospital is held in very high regard. I understand people are concerned but everyone feels this way about their district general hospital.”

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

The councillors' concerns

DESPITE unanimously voting to move head and neck cancer surgery to Norwich yesterday Suffolk's health scrutiny committee said it was concerned about the future of Ipswich hospital and would resist any attempt to downgrade it.

David Yorke-Edwards said: “I think most of us would agree that the important thing is to get the best treatment and best results - the most cures.

“I think to do that we have to go along with moving the treatment base up to the Norfolk and Norwich.

“The one thing I'm really concerned about is: Is this the thin end of the wedge for Ipswich Hospital?

“If we support this move does that mean there is someone sitting in the Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Strategic Health Authority (SHA) who says 'we can tick that one off, we've got that through now let's move to the next'?

“Because that would be a very sad thing for the county. We want some assurances that Ipswich will get its turn to provide a centre of excellence at some point too.”

Elizabeth Gibson-Harries said: “I have this dreadful fear about the future of Ipswich Hospital.

“In the long term people still have this worry that enough services will be withdrawn for it not to be able to be viable.”

And Peter Beer added: “If they (the PCT) attempts to close Ipswich Hospital they will have a tremendous fight on their hands.”

The hospital's view

IPSWICH Hospital's chief executive Andrew Reed said: "Our hospital highly values the services we provide and we will make a real contribution to excellence in patient services in the future.

"In the case of head and neck services, there were clear national standards based on national and international evidence providing a clear direction for cancer surgery. We agree that an integrated team between Ipswich Hospital and the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital could further strengthen patient experience, building on the strength of both teams.

"We are a major hospital which serves a big population and outside these specific national standards we will defend the services we provide.

"We know there is strong support among the community of Suffolk to retain our services and we want to build on that for a strong future."