Woolverstone Macmillan Centre at Ipswich Hospital looks to the future of cancer care in Suffolk

Christine McKenzie (L to R) Dr Ramachandran Venkitaraman, Rachel Clifton and Pauline Meadows at the

Christine McKenzie (L to R) Dr Ramachandran Venkitaraman, Rachel Clifton and Pauline Meadows at the Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

With its modern facilities, peaceful gardens and bright, spacious waiting area, the recently opened Woolverstone Macmillan Centre at Ipswich Hospital looks every inch the state-of-the-art cancer facility it was dreamt it could be.

Dr Christopher Scrase at the Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

Dr Christopher Scrase at the Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

Health chiefs say the new £4.7 million centre has more than doubled the hospital’s cancer patient capacity while those receiving treatment there have praised the relaxed and comfortable atmosphere it provides.

Its opening in May saw the unveiling of extra consulting rooms, treatment chairs and areas for complementary therapies – and the realisation of a vision which began more than seven years ago with the launch of Woolverstone Wish.

In just five years, the group raised £800,000 to refurbish the hospital’s existing cancer unit – at which point Macmillan stepped in with more funding for a brand new centre to further improve outcomes for cancer patients in Suffolk.

So when a new report published last month in the Lancet Oncology identified the hospital as the fourth worst trust in the country for breast cancer mortalities, there was understandable concern.

Christopher Scrase, lead clinician for cancer services at the hospital, said his colleagues were “disappointed” with the report and wanted to reassure patients about the reasons for the poor mortality score.

“The honest answer is that the result was based on incorrect information,” he added.

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“We hold our hands up; as an organisation we can’t disguise the fact that we gave incorrectly coded information.”

Data errors aside, however, Dr Scrase said he was confident the Woolverstone Centre is offering an improved service for a greater number of patients, with exciting new possibilities ahead.

“It’s been a long journey to get here,” he added.

Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

“The expansion has been to meet demand but it’s also a reflection of much more multi-professional working.

“Gone are the days when patients just see doctors – what we now strive to do is give patients a much more holistic package.”

With a brand new day unit and consulting rooms increasing from eight to 13, there is now sufficient space at the centre to bring together a wider range of health professionals, including radiographers, supportive care providers and those providing complementary therapies such as acupuncture.

“What we are seeking to do is make sure all elements of patient care are in someway addressed,” Dr Scrase said.

A key part of that, he says, is the John Le Vay Cancer Information Centre, which patients can visit to discuss non-clinical issues such as possible financial concerns or how they can rebuild their life after recovery.

Consultant oncologist Liz Sherwin said the new centre had created a “more pleasant environment” for patients.

“The changes we’ve made will hopefully help the whole experience of patients in terms of how they feel and how relatives can be with them,” she added. “There’s more space, patients don’t feel so rushed and there’s improvements in efficiency.”

Other exciting developments made possible through the new centre include pioneering new treatments.

Dr Scrase said a new form of “breath holding radiotherapy” was being used at the hospital to minimise radiation exposure, thereby reducing the potential long-term side-effects.

One of the gardens at the Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

One of the gardens at the Woolverstone Centre, Ipswich Hospital.

Clinical trials for chemotherapy have also been carried out at the hospital.

“Our involvement in clinical trials can give a high degree of assurance to patients that we are delivering very safe and effective services,” Dr Scrase said. “The new centre gives is a much bigger opportunity to get involved.”

Further plans are currently being identified in the hospital’s four year cancer strategy.

With advancements in chemotherapy, Dr Scrase said more patients would be able to receive the treatment as outpatients, rather than spending time in specialist wards. Other goals include improving patients’ after-care to help their return to normal life, while ensuring there is easy access to follow-up care for those who require it.

Just as public support and charity involvement played an essential role in delivering the Woolverstone Centre, Dr Scrase said future projects would also rely on input from outside the NHS.

“That’s the reality of the world we’re in,” he added.

“The health service has finite boundaries and there’s always more money that needs to be spent.”

Visit www.woolverstonewish.org.uk to find out more about the Woolverstone Wish project and how to donate.

Fundraisers and supporters pictured when the Woolverstone Wish appeal hit its half million mark.

Fundraisers and supporters pictured when the Woolverstone Wish appeal hit its half million mark.

Patient praises centre’s ‘startling’ transformation

Cancer patient Shasha Toptani has experienced treatment at Ipswich Hospital before and after the creation of the Woolverstone Centre - and says the transformation has been “startling”.

The 63-year-old, from Cretingham, near Framlingham, was first admitted for breast cancer treatment nearly four years ago; before work on the new centre had even begun.

Although she praised staff at the old oncology centre, she said the new improvements had made a huge difference.

“I found it’s startlingly different from the rest of the hospital,” she added.

“Nowhere else have I experienced staff so attentive about how I felt.

“They talk to us as though we’re intelligent human beings.”

With the extra space, Ms Toptani said there was “not so much sitting in lines and waiting areas”.

Cancer patient Shasha Toptani at the Woolverstone Macmillan Centre

Cancer patient Shasha Toptani at the Woolverstone Macmillan Centre - Credit: Archant

“It seems everything flows much quicker than it did before,” she added.

“It’s much more comfortable, more relaxed and everyone is very approachable.

“You feel as though everyone is in control of the situation and you are comfortable contacting people if things go wrong.”

Public health chiefs call for urgent review of cancer treatments

Health chiefs have told 19 hospitals – including two in Suffolk – to review their cancer treatment after a study identified variations in the number of deaths among patients receiving chemotherapy,

The report, published in this month’s Lancet Oncology, was the first of its kind to look at deaths among lung and breast cancer patients within 30 days of receiving treatment.

Although the report’s authors acknowledged data errors may have affected the results, they highlighted variations in mortality rates at the 147 trusts surveyed, possibly linked to the use of chemotherapy.

The findings led Public Health England (PHE) to tell 19 hospital trusts, including Ipswich and James Paget, to review their cancer treatment “as a matter of urgency”.

Jem Rashbass, cancer lead for PHE, said: “Chemotherapy is a vital part of cancer treatment and is a large reason behind the improved survival rates over the last four decades.

“However, it is powerful medication with significant side effects and often getting the balance right on which patients to treat aggressively can be hard. Studies like this help improve our understanding of how people are affected by chemotherapy in the real world and most importantly help us to treat patients better.”

James Paget’s chief operating officer Sue Watkinson said the cases highlighted in the report had been reviewed by senior clinicians, who have examined them to see if there are any common factors.

“At this time, there is no evidence of any trend but we will continue to monitor these rates, in line with our Trust procedures,” she added.

“Every case is different – and decisions concerning treatment can depend on factors including the stage of the disease, any underlying conditions - and the wishes of the patient.”

Ipswich Hospital explained its status as an outlier on data errors, which it said it would review.