CANCER patients face fresh upheaval to get treatment after under-fire health chiefs admitted a vital unit is set to close.
The haematology unit at the University Hospital of North Tees, in Stockton – which is part of the overall chemotherapy centre at the Stockton hospital which cares for hundreds of cancer patients from Hartlepool and East Durham – is being axed as bosses at the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust are struggling to recruit new consultants.
The unit has eight beds, and treats patients with both malignant and non-malignant diseases of the blood including cancer and leukaemia.
The closure will have no impact on the existing chemotherapy/haematology day unit at Hartlepool’s hospital.
Any town-based patients who have needed the specialist treatment have previously been transferred to Stockton.
The patients - and their families or visitors - now face an even longer trek with the unit in Stockton likely to be phased out by November.
The Trust’s management is now in talks with Sunderland Royal Hospital and the James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, to see if they can take patients who would previously have been treated at North Tees.
The news is the latest blow to hit the Trust in recent months, and comes just a week after plans were revealed to close two nurseries at the hospitals in Hartlepool and Stockton with the loss of 54 jobs.
Dr David Emerton, medical director of North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust, said: “Most of our haematology patients are treated as outpatients and as day patients.
“These services on both sites are unaffected.
“However in the past few years we have been unable to recruit the number of consultants we need to meet the complex needs of patients requiring care as an inpatient at the unit at the University Hospital of North Tees.
“In the future different arrangements will be needed for the small number of patients with the most serious haematological conditions who need to be admitted as an inpatient to a specialist haematology unit.
“Patients currently in our unit will continue to be looked after there, but we are in discussions with the hospitals north and south of us to ensure that any new patients can be admitted to hospitals near to their home.”
Save Our Hospital campaigner Keith Fisher described the move as “another step in the wrong direction” but added that he wasn’t surprised the Trust was struggling to recruit new staff.
He said: “When businesses are insecure, they will always struggle to recruit.
“And both of our hospitals are insecure. There is a shadow over both of them because of the Wynyard situation.
“The sooner they scrap that plan and come up with something to reinvigorate health provision in our area, the better.
“But until they have the bottle to do that, then I’d imagine they will always struggle to recruit.
“And while all this goes on, once again we are left with a situation where you and I, as members of the public and patients, are suffering.
“Not for the first time, it’s another step in the wrong direction.”