Ipswich/Suffolk: Why the delay? Build specialist heart centre now, heart chiefs urged

IPSWICH/SUFFOLK: Health bosses are today being called on to cut through the red tape and secure the specialist heart services that our county deserves.

The Ipswich Star can today reveal that debt woes at Ipswich Hospital has meant health bosses will be seeking third-party funding for a specialist elective heart centre at its Heath Road site.

The hospital’s mounting debt – which stands at around �11million – has hampered attempts to secure the �5.1m needed for the specialist elective heart centre (known as PCI) through conventional channels from NHS Midlands and East. The regional health chiefs have stalled the process due to the hospital’s financial challenges.

While proposals for the elective heart centre, which would carry out planned angioplasty procedures, were approved by NHS Suffolk’s board last October, the final green light must come from the region’s strategic health authority, NHS Midlands and East, headed up by Sir Neil McKay.

A spokeswoman for NHS Midlands and East said the SHA has received the outline business case for the tender process.

She said: “NHS Midlands and East has received the outline business case for the tender of the Specialist Elective Heart Centre put forward by Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust and will be subject to the same process as all capital projects submitted to the strategic health authority.”

On Thursday, Ipswich Hospital’s board will be asked to approve plans to seek tenders from third-party organisations and charities to build and equip the centre.

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In May 2009 the Star uncovered plans to set up three emergency centres for specialist heart care, known as PPCIs, at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, Papworth in Cambridge and Basildon in Essex, leaving Suffolk the only county in the area without the provision.

Due to widespread concern, the Star launched its Have a Heart appeal to campaign for an emergency heart centre to be set up at Ipswich and to raise money to equip the elective centre once it is built.

In December 2010 Professor Roger Boyle published a report, which recommended an elective centre should be provided at Ipswich, while emergency care should go to one of the three regional centres. Despite the delay Ipswich Hospital chief executive Andrew Reed said the trust is committed to building the elective centre.

He said: “We are determined to develop the cardiology service at Ipswich Hospital, particularly to deliver an elective PCI service.”

A staunch supporter of the Star’s campaign, Ipswich’s Conservative MP Ben Gummer, said the main cause of the delay is NHS red tape which is “achingly slow”.

“We have won the battle what we need to see now is results,” he said. “The main cause of the delay is the NHS procurement process [of which the SHA is part] which is achingly slow.

“It is one of the reasons we are trying to get foundation status for the hospital, to give the trust more freedom. But until then we have to stick with what we have got.

“I am going to do everything I can to see if we can find a way to make things quicker.”

And campaigner Len Tate, vice-chairman of Heartbeat East Suffolk, said he knows the hospital is committed but said it is vital the service is available to patients in Ipswich and Suffolk as soon as possible.

He said: “I am a heart patient and I regard it as an essential service.

“This is elective care not 24-7 emergency care, but I hope once we see elective care in Ipswich we can push for emergency care as well.”

Mr Reed added: “We first looked at funding it conventionally, using trust funds, but because of the significant financial challenges we face we have now reassessed how best to fund the proposal, and we are investigating a competitive tender process. We aim to have the facility open in two years time.

“We’d like to again say thank you to members of the local community who have backed the Have a Heart fundraising appeal.”

A hospital spokeswoman added: “In light of not being able to rely on conventional funding, we have taken the proactive approach to seek a third party to fund it.

“We acknowledge had we not had the financial problems we may have been successful with conventional funding.

“Obviously because of our significant challenges it is much harder for people to give you additional funding.

“Our challenge is to make sure we do what we do in the best way possible and keep on track financially.”

n How important is a new specialist heart centre to patients in Ipswich? Write to Star Letters, Ipswich Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail starnews@archant.co.uk