September 17, 2008

New Hope for NHS Cancer Services

By Andy Greenwood Chief Reporter

The Government has instigated an urgent review of threatened cancer surgery services in Cornwall.

Specialist throat and neck cancer treatment at the Royal Cornwall Hospital, at Treliske, is already supposed to have moved to Plymouth's Derriford Hospital as part of a scheme to create a single, dedicated centre in the region in 2010.

However, the controversial plans have been derailed by mounting opposition from patients, staff and councillors to keep the service in the county.

It has now emerged that Professor Mike Richards, the Department of Health's national cancer director, has "strongly advised" that a further review be carried out.

The study follows a decision by Cornwall county councillors in July for full consultation to be carried out on the plan to centralise upper gastrointestinal services.

In a joint statement, Ann James, chief executive of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Primary Care Trust (PCT) and Royal Cornwall Hospitals Trust (RCHT) chief executive John Watkinson, said: "The national cancer director, Prof Mike Richards, has strongly advised that an urgent review of the upper gastrointestinal service at the RCHT be undertaken.

"The review has been requested to help clarify how the service is currently being delivered in relation to national clinical requirements.

"The PCT and RCHT have been facilitating the arrangements for the review, which is being undertaken by two of the leading upper gastrointestinal surgeons in the country and is ongoing.

"The PCT and RCHT welcome the review as a helpful step, which will inform the consultation that the PCT has been asked to undertake in relation to upper gastrointestinal cancer surgery."

Controversy over the move has already led to the departure of Peter Davies, chairman of the Royal Cornwall Hospital Trust, who resigned his post in protest at the plans.

Campaigners have also mobilised their forces, gathering a 19,000- signature petition before July's meeting of the county council's Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

The committee voted for a full consultation process saying "piecemeal and inadequate information" had prevented "rigorous scrutiny".

A joint overview and scrutiny group, combining the committees in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly, is expected to be agreed at a meeting later today. It is then expected to pursue further consultation.

Rose Woodward, chairman of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Cancer Patient Group, said: "We know the service from Treliske is 110 per cent safe, we hear this from the patients themselves and our group meets regularly with the surgeons and nurses who are totally committed to the patients they look after.

"This is a wonderful team of doctors and nurses, and patients in Cornwall are lucky to have this service right on their doorstep. We intend to make sure that it stays here. That is what Cornish people want and we hope the PCT is looking for ways to make that happen.

"We are glad that at last the PCT is going to visit our hospital and talk to the team, we hope now they will realise how important it is to keep vital surgery skills here in Cornwall for local people.

"We hope the hospitals in Plymouth and Exeter will also undergo checks like this and patients minds can be at rest about the services their local hospitals provide."

(c) 2008 Western Morning News, The Plymouth (UK). Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.