Lack of staff forces health bosses to suspend new patients from care service

Local NHS bosses have chosen to temporarily suspend new referrals from north, south and central Norf

Local NHS bosses have chosen to temporarily suspend new referrals from north, south and central Norfolk to the community lymphoedema service. - Credit: PA

A community service for patients, many of whom have had breast cancer, has been closed to new referrals.

The decision, by health bosses in North Norfolk, Norwich, and South Norfolk, to temporarily suspend new referrals to the community lymphoedema service has been taken because of a lack of staff.

Lymphoedema is caused by a problem with the lymphatic system, the network of vessels and glands distributed throughout the body that helps to fight infection and drain excess fluid from tissues.

Women who have had breast cancer are particularly at risk of developing the condition.

There are currently 291 patients receiving care from the service, with another 98 waiting for treatment.

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The decision means those patients are likely to wait longer for care.

Health bosses said the nurse who provided the service in central Norfolk was moving to a different role this month, and recruitment for a replacement has not been successful.

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Karen Watts, of the Norwich Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), apologised to the patients affected by the decision.

'We are in a position where we must protect the existing community lymphoedema service as much as possible.'

The service is run by Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust. Two specialist nurses based in West Norfolk, and outside the county, have agreed to extend their hours to treat extra patients.

Karen Friett, chief executive of national organisation the Lymphoedema Support Network, said waiting times for patients varied nationally from two weeks to six months.

'There is no doubt that the sooner someone can receive appropriate care the better,' she said.

'Lymphoedema is a life-long condition and the aim is for those living with it to get the support they need to self-manage their swelling.

'But without the correct initial assessment, advice and the implementation of movement and weight management regime, the condition will deteriorate.

'That can lead to increased swelling, skin changes and an increase in the incidence of cellulitis – an infection that often leads to hospitalisation.

'We understand the challenges faced by CCGs, both in terms of financial constraints and recruiting staff, and have been working with our colleagues in the British Lymphology Society to encourage a national strategy for lymphoedema care in England.'

Lymphoedema patients can call a support line run by Macmillan on 0808 808 0000.

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