CANCER patients are being forced to make a 300-mile round trip for life-saving operations.
Action has been demanded because the nearest hospital for West Dorset people who suffer with prostate cancer and need to have robotic assisted surgery (RAS) is in Slough.
One patient has told the Echo he had been on the waiting list for six months and was ‘stranded in Slough’ after his operation.
As previously reported, Dorset County Hospital apologised to 15 men who had been left waiting for operations.
But waiting times will continue to go over the target of 62 days because the main hospital to which West Dorset patients are referred has had its service put under review.
In November, the Royal Bournemouth Hospital ann-ounced the purchase of a £1.6m ‘Da Vinci’ robot which can perform minimally invasive surgery.
But it failed to get the go-ahead and can’t take on any new referrals.
In order to get authorisation, a hospital must serve a population of one million and see 150 cases of prostate cancer a year.
The population of Dorset is around 750,000.
Dorset County Hospital chief executive Jean O’Callaghan said: “Bournemouth purchased the robot and announced it before they were really ready to deliver the service.
“NHS England has said you have got to have a population of one million and Bournemouth does not meet the guidelines.
“No new robotic treatment can be carried out until a review has been done.”
Mrs O’Callaghan said it is ‘looking very unlikely’ that Bournemouth will get the go-ahead.
Those already on the list will receive treatment at Bourne-mouth, but the hospital will not take on any more West Dorset prostate cancer patients.
Dorset’s nearest hospitals – Southampton, Bristol, Exeter and Devon – are all unable to take any more.
Because of this, they are being sent to Wexham Park in Berkshire – the nearest hospital with available space.
Patient governor Andy Hutchings said this gave him ‘grave concerns’.
In January, Wexham Park was given six formal warning notices following an unannounced inspection in which it failed to meet eight of nine national standards. Mr Hutchings added: “Those patients are really suffering from a life-threatening condition and some have gone to Wexham Park, which is subject to a damning Care Quality Commission report.
“Something has got to be done for these people.
“How are we going to get the surgery for them?
“These are our patients and we should be doing all we can to look after them.”
Patients can have laparoscopic surgery but the outcomes from the robotic surgery are better.
Governors will be writing to the Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and Health secretary Jeremy Hunt.
EXTRA STRESS ON TOP OF THE WORRY
A PROSTATE cancer patient has said the ‘inconvenience’ of going to Slough added extra stress to an already worrying time.
Although David Mountford has ‘nothing but praise’ for the staff at Wexham Park, he was left stranded after his operation.
Patients are not able to drive after having the surgery.
Mr Mountford, 60, had used the Dorset patient transfer service – which has recently been blasted as ‘diabolical’ – to get to Slough.
But after his operation he was told he would have to get a private taxi back to Bridport, paid for by Wexham Park.
The journey home, he said, took almost four hours. Mr Mountford added: “It’s supposed to be diagnosis, then in to hospital as soon as possible to get the cancer removed and then you’ll be on the road to recovery.
“But I was just left waiting.
“When I did finally get a date for the operation, it was only a short stay in hospital.
“But the inconvenience of going all the way to Slough made it worse.
“It’s not good.”
Mr Mountford said that for a long time he was left believing his operation would take place at Bournemouth.
And he said being left waiting for an operation date ‘added panic and stress’ to the situation.
He said: “We were worrying that the wait might have made my condition worse.
“We didn’t know, because there were no more follow-up appointments. We were just left hanging on.
“I was ringing and ringing and nobody was picking up the phone.
“I have no problems with the care I received at Wexham, I was cared for very well.
“I couldn’t have asked for any more from the consultant and the nurses.
“But having to go all the way to Slough and having that long wait added a lot of stress to the situation.”
GOVERNOR RAISES ISSUES WITH WEST DORSET MP OLIVER LETWIN
PATIENT governor Derek Julian will be meeting West Dorset MP Oliver Letwin today to discuss the situation.
Speaking after the governor’s meeting, Mr Julian said he did not blame Dorset County Hospital but said the situation needed to be reviewed ‘urgently.’ He added: “We should be really annoyed about this.
“We need to put it very forcefully that this situation is unacceptable.
“It is already too long to have been waiting at 62 days.
“When you are diagnosed with cancer, action needs to be taken as quickly as possible.”
ROBOT SURGERY A PREFERRED TECHNIQUE
A SPOKESMAN for The Royal Bournemouth and Christchurch Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said: “Robotic assisted surgery (RAS) is an increasingly popular alternative to laparoscopic surgery, principally for cancer.
“Our Trust is the designated local centre for major urological cancers and purchased a Da Vinci robot jointly with a local charity last autumn, after extensive discussions with commissioners and other local health partners.
“By the end of March 2014, the Trust will have treated approximately 35 patients diagnosed with malignant prostate cancer.
“The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) published guidance for the management of prostate cancer, including RAS, in January 2014.
“This included indicative numbers of 150 cases per centre per year.
“But only a few centres in the NHS are working at that level.
“NHS England recently published guidance halting the commissioning of new robotic services, pending the production of a new national commissioning policy for RAS.
“While we await this policy, we will not be adding names to the existing waiting list for RAS, meaning that patients from across the county will have to go further afield, and wait longer for robotic surgery.
We are involved in detailed, senior level discussions with local commissioners to provide clarity over the short-term future of robotic assisted surgery in Dorset while NHS England develops the national commissioning policy.”