HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright slammed hospital chiefs for planning to close a vital cancer unit even though its top boss admits demand for services is increasing.
Mr Wright branded the plans to close the haematology unit at the University Hospital of North Tees in Stockton “bizarre, even ridiculous”.
The planned closure comes as trust bosses l Turn to Page 4
admit the number of patients referred by GPs to cancer medics is set to rise.
The unit is part of the Stockton hospital’s chemotherapy centre which cares for hundreds of cancer patients, including those from Hartlepool and East Durham.
But the eight-bed unit, which treats inpatients with blood diseases including cancer and leukaemia, is struggling to recruit new consultants.
Chief executive Alan Foster said demand for cancer services at the trust are predicted to increase in the future as a result of better screening and greater awareness campaigns.
North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust say they have experienced “significant and increasing pressures” which led to it missing two nationally-set cancer targets in June.
Mr Foster said: “I think what we can predict going forward is demand is going to increase.
“GPs are going to be better managed in terms of referrals.
“The age range of screening for all cancers is extending and the workload is increasing.
“Nationally, there hasn’t been enough planning and preparation so we need to work locally to get on top of that.”
In June, 73.5 per cent of the trust’s patients began their treatment within 62 days of them being referred by their GP instead of 85 per cent.
The trust narrowly missed a target for patients being seen within 14 days of being referred from their GP at 92.2 per cent compared to 93 per cent.
Mr Wright said: “It is bizarre, even ridiculous, for a service to be closed when it is expected that demand will increase.
“Our area suffers more than the national average for cancers and I would demand and expect that the local NHS works in a joined-up and collaborative way to reduce health inequalities. This doesn’t seem to be happening in this case.
“Cancers of this type require swift access to treatment for patients and I am concerned that this closure will mean people diagnosed with cancer will have to wait longer for treatment.
“I welcome emphasis on GPs promoting earlier screening and more effective cancer awareness campaigns. However, how on earth does it help patients diagnosed with cancer – more of whom will be wishing to access the service as a result of better and earlier screening – if the service is withdrawn and they face ever longer waiting times at James Cook and Sunderland?
“I am convinced it doesn’t.”
Mr Wright blamed a lack of Government funding for the NHS and will lodge questions with Secretary of State for health Jeremy Hunt in Parliament today.
He added: “I fear that this service and others are being closed and clinical vacancies for staff not being filled because of the Trust having to fill a black hole in finances caused by insufficient funding of the NHS by the Government.
“This closure doesn’t seem to be pushed by clinical need, improved surgical care or technological advances, but dictated instead by financial considerations, a lack of money given to the local NHS by the Government and a need to plan better by the local NHS. This is unacceptable.”