New fury over Head and Neck decision

IT'S a total sham.Patients, doctors and the general public were told time and time again that their views did matter during the head and neck consultation.

IT'S a total sham.

Patients, doctors and the general public were told time and time again that their views did matter during the head and neck consultation.

But today, thanks to letters between NHS bodies revealed by a Freedom of Information request, it emerged that there was only ever one option - scrapping the life-saving cancer surgery at Ipswich and moving it to Norwich.

Yet thousands of pounds have been spent on a consultation which was all just a smokescreen.

Ben Gummer, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Ipswich who put in the information requests, said: “What this shows is that the consultation is a sham. That the government doesn't care what Ipswich people think or want.

“They will force through centralisation in the face of determined local resistance.”

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The letters between bosses at the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA), Anglia Cancer Network and Suffolk Primary Care Trust, show that it was the SHA in control of the decision from the beginning, and the smaller bodies were simply following orders.

It means the views of the almost 3,000 people who signed The Evening Star's petition against the move, and all those that attended the consultation meetings, counted for nothing.

Peter Espley, of the Ipswich Hospital Cancer Services User Group, said: “It is absolutely appalling. It is totally disregarding the general public and the cancer patients.

“I'm appalled that this sort of thing goes on. We are told that the NHS is patient-led and all the official documents all say the patients' needs are most important, but they are saying one thing and in practice doing another.

“The SHA is telling everyone what to do.”

Are you angry that the SHA is forcing through a decision the people of Suffolk do not want? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich IP4 1AN or e-mail

The proof

SINCE the consultation began those taking part have felt a decision had already been made.

Yet bosses at the Anglia Cancer Network and Suffolk Primary Care Trust insisted the opinions voiced in the consultation which ended on Wednesday would be heeded.

Now The Evening Star can prove that was never the case.

Because the Department of Health and the East of England Strategic Health Authority (SHA) would accept nothing less than dismantling the head and neck cancer surgery team at Ipswich and moving it to Norwich.

Dr Paul Watson, director of commissioning at the SHA wrote to Carole Taylor-Brown, chairwoman of the Anglia Cancer Network and chief executive in December, and said: “I was concerned to see in the Anglia Cancer Network options appraisal that your network board is due to consider service provision options.

“Option 1 - Retain the current service at Ipswich Hospital.

“Option 2 - Establish a joint multidisciplinary team between Ipswich and Norwich, with curative surgery on both sites.

“Option 3 - Head and neck multidisciplinary teams at Norfolk and Norwich with all curative surgery at Norwich.

“The SHA requests that the network advise their board that options 1 and 2 are non-IOG (Improving Outcomes Guidance) compliant and will not be approved by the SHA.”

In another December letter he mentioned: “the need to ensure due process is followed in undertaking public consultation”.

He did not mention what the SHA may learn from a consultation, simply the need to tick the box of rules and procedures followed.

Dr Watson also demanded to see a copy of the Anglia Cancer Network's (ACN) consultation document into the plans before it was made public.

Once he had read the document, designed to give the public a fair reflection of all the arguments, he asked for it to be changed so his favoured option was presented in a more positive light.

In a letter dated February 29 he wrote to Mrs Taylor-Brown: “Thank you for submitting your draft document for our consideration. We have made some minor amendments to the enclosed document, shown as tracked changes.

“We would also like the PCT to consider the following comments:

“The issue of further travel/patient access could be presented in a less absolute and negative manner.

“Also we would suggest that there be greater emphasis and explanation given to the fact that specialist surgery is a relatively short component in a lengthy pathway of care.”

The SHA has also told the PCT to send it a copy of the consultation report before the report is published.

Anglia Cancer Network's view

A SPOKESMAN for the Anglia Cancer Network said: “Apart from public consultation being a legal requirement, the consultation period gave the network the opportunity to discuss the future of head and neck services with the public, stakeholders and clinicians.

“It was a useful tool for giving people information about the Improving Outcomes Guidance (IOG) and the three options considered by the network and explaining the reasons behind the network's recommendation.

“We also used the consultation to ask people to suggest any other options which are in line with the network's remit and would be compliant with the guidance, which the network could then consider.

“All of these responses are now being collated and will be independently reviewed by the University of East Anglia.”

East of England Strategic Health Authority's view

What was the point of having a consultation if the decision had already been taken?

The consultation document clearly states that the Anglia Cancer Network was seeking views on its preferred option during the formal public consultation.

The two other options originally considered by the head and neck service review group were not compliant with the Improving Outcomes Guidance (IOG) and therefore cannot be considered as viable options for implementation.

There is a legal requirement for NHS bodies to consult on any proposed service change.

The consultation period is an opportunity for our stakeholders, NHS staff, patients, carers and members of the public to give us their views and comments, and to make suggestions to improve the proposal or for other options to be considered.

Why had the SHA made up its mind before hearing all the views expressed in the consultation?

Why is the SHA making the decision, not the cancer networks and Suffolk PCT?

The East of England Strategic Health Authority is accountable to the Department of Health for the ensuring that all cancer networks in its area achieve compliance with the relevant national guidance.

Why did Dr Watson try to make the information in the consultation document, which is supposed to be fair and unbiased, reflect his point of view?

The opinion expressed by Dr Watson in his letter to the Anglian Cancer Network is the view of the SHA.

The SHA's role is to ensure that clinical services are safe and that they are compliant with the relevant national guidance. In this case the head and neck cancer service needs to be compliant with the IOG.

It is an established gateway process that all consultation documents by Primary Care Trusts are submitted to the SHA for approval.

The campaign

THE Evening Star is fighting to keep life-saving head and neck cancer surgery where it belongs - at Ipswich Hospital.

The Anglia Cancer Network (ACN) has recommended moving the service to Norwich, leaving patients and their loved-ones facing a 100-mile round trip at one of the most stressful times of their lives.

The network claims the switch is needed to comply with national guidelines which aim to create specialist centres to deal with head and neck cancer.

But expert clinicians at Ipswich Hospital say the move would be catastrophic for patients and the hospital.

They warn that the highly-regarded oral and maxillofacial department could be downgraded as a result, meaning it may not be able to deal with facial trauma cases, which would have an impact on the Accident and Emergency department.