Ipswich: Hospital refuses transport for heart attack victim, 84

The son of an elderly man who was refused transport home from an Essex hospital after major heart surgery has today re-ignited the debate about why life-saving surgery isn’t available at Ipswich Hospital.

The case of 84-year-old Richard Button, who was rushed to Basildon Hospital after suffering a heart attack, has prompted calls for an emergency centre to be built at the Heath Road hospital.

Mr Button fell ill last Wednesday night at his home in Chelsworth Avenue and was taken to the Essex hospital – which is one of three specialist centres for emergency heart patients in the region.

After having a stent inserted to ease the blockage to his artery, Mr Button’s family were then informed that it was their responsibility to get him back to Ipswich.

His son Tony Button today criticised Basildon Hospital over the transport arrangements and questioned how an elderly person without relatives would have coped.

“They said we could arrange a taxi but it would be at your cost, which I think is pretty horrendous,” said the 56-year-old, of Prince of Wales Drive, Ipswich.

“He did not choose to go to Basildon.If there’s any elderly person in the same situation and they haven’t got family that are able to collect them then what are they going to do?”

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Tony praised treatment given to his dad but said the 120-mile round-trip to the hospital had been too much for his frail mother Eileen.

After undergoing surgery at Basildon – the region’s specialist heart centre – his father was due to be transferred to Ipswich Hospital to recover.

But Basildon Hospital told Mr Button’s relatives there were no beds free at Ipswich and that he would be discharged directly from Essex.

Tony added: “Obviously it does work by having regional centres but why should the patient suffer being stranded there afterwards?

“If you’re being sceptical you could say there are never going to be beds available in Ipswich because that’s going to require them to use an ambulance.”

Mr Button is currently recuperating at home.

A spokeswoman for Basildon Hospital said if patients have no means of getting home and meet certain eligibility criteria, then transport would be arranged.

But otherwise they would be expect family or friends to come and pick them up.

A spokeswoman for Ipswich Hospital said it was NHS Suffolk that paid for the transport of patients, not the hospital.

She added: “We do our very best to make beds available to any patient who is being cared for in another hospital and needs to be returned to us.

“Regrettably there are times when because of pressures on the wards there may not be a bed available at the precise time it’s needed.”

Two years ago Ipswich Hospital lost out on being one of the three centres in the East of England to provide specialist emergency heart treatment (angioplasty) so patients are now taken to Norwich, Basildon or Papworth.

The Evening Star launched its Have a Heart Appeal which called for an emergency centre to be set up at the Heath Road Hospital. The Star’s readers raised �30,000 to go towards equipment for a catheter laboratory for planned angioplasty operations at Ipswich, with the hope that once this could led to an emergency centre being established. The plans for the cath lab are currently being discussed.

Suffolk MP Dan Poulter says Mr Button’s case highlights the problems with the regionalising of heart services.

Two years ago changes were secretly introduced which meant that emergency heart attack patients were taken to specialist centres outside the county in Basildon, Norwich and Papworth to receive angioplasty treatment, a procedure similar to Mr Button’s to open the artery.

“I think this highlights what has gone wrong over the last five years in the regionalising of heart services,” said Dr Poulter, MP for north Ipswich and mid Suffolk.

“I would like to see the hospital take a more proactive attitude to fight to keep services at the hospital.

“One of its top priorities is to fight to get a 24-hour angioplasty rota.

“It’s [angioplasty] is the gold standard for heart attack treatment; we have lots of elderly people around here and it’s something we need.

“We need to know, even if we don’t have angioplasty services locally, that patients are still rehabilitated back at Ipswich close to their home and families.”

Ipswich missing out on becoming one of the specialist centres prompted The Evening Star to launch its Have a Heart campaign, which has raised �30,000 towards bringing state-of-the-art facilities back to the town.

The money will go towards buying equipment for a catheter laboratory, where non-emergency elective patients can get treatment so they will no longer have to travel.

It is thought that once this facility is up-and-running Ipswich’s case to have a specialist centre - akin to the ones in Essex, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire - will be strengthened.

Len Tate, vice-president of Heartbeat (East Suffolk Cardiac Support Group) said a business case for the centre would be put forward towards the end of this year.

“I think it’s absolutely important that Ipswich Hospital has a heart centre,” he said. “Your problem is – although I’m told it will go ahead – the current financial issues. Not a hospital anywhere is making any money.”