Protest at proposals to move cancer surgery from King’s Lynn to Norwich
Campaigners are set to stage a protest over proposals to send cancer patients from west Norfolk to Norwich for operations.
Bosses at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King's Lynn are discussing whether surgery should be moved to the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital because of staffing problems.
A leaked memo has revealed senior staff are drawing up a paper which will be discussed by the hospital's board when it meets later this month.
The internal note says: 'We believe that doing everything we can to ensure as little disruption to our elective programme over the winter period has to be in the best interest of our patients.'
Trade unionists are staging a protest outside the hospital's main entrance at 12-noon on Saturday.
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'I feel so strongly that the people of King's Lynn and West Norfolk cannot let this announcement go unchallenged,' said Jo Rust, secretary of the King's Lynn Trades Council, which is organising the protest.
'Removing elective cancer surgery is going to significantly inconvenience patients and their relatives both cost-wise and time-wise.'
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Hospital chief executive Jon Green said: 'As we move into winter we find ourselves in a particularly challenging position. Our nurse staffing levels, especially when it comes to registered nurses, are lower than we had predicted and would wish for. Even with the employment of agency staff this is likely to preclude us from opening the number of beds we predict we require to run our full planned surgical programme while at the same time ensuring the safety and care of those needing our services in an emergency.
'We must always accept patients who urgently need our services and cannot close our doors to them. Our work with the N&NUH to explore the possibility of moving planned cancer and urgent surgery is just one of the options which will be brought forward. We have said our plans for winter will develop and change as situations and opportunities arise. All proposals are assessed for their impact on patients and will not go ahead if not safe and the risk of taking action must always be assessed against the risk of doing nothing.
'Proposals may or may not be ready for consideration at the next board meeting at the end of this month as we work this through with our clinical teams. They will be considered as soon as practicably possible.'
If operations are moved, the leaked memo said surgical staff would 'most likely' travel from Lynn to perform them.
But Ms Rust said: 'Staff are already saying if they've got to work in Norwich they're not going to, they've got their work life balance.
'For many, working in Norwich is just not practical when they have family, finances and hours to consider.'
Plans to move operations elsewhere were first revealed after the hospital was put in special measures by health watchdog the Care Quality Commission two months ago.
Among its findings, the CQC said there were not enough nursing staff at the QEH to keep patients safe.
Proposals to close beds and postpone operations were tabled at a meeting of the hospital's governing body on September 25.
But board members voted instead to recruit extra temporary staff to plug shortfalls running up to 40pc on some wards.
Union Unison fears moving cancer surgery will result in a 'second rate service' at the hospital. Some cancer patients already travel from west Norfolk to the N&NUH or Royal Marsden Hospital in London for treatment.