PLANS to centralise vascular services in Cumbria and Lancashire will have a detrimental effect on patients, councillors have said.
Under national guidance, a review was launched in 2010 to consider the most effective way of delivering vascular services - treating conditions affecting the body’s circulation - going forward.
It was recommended that eight centres currently offering inpatient treatment should be reduced to three in the region, with better outcomes for patients.
After a procurement process involving bids from five hospital trusts, Cumberland Infirmary, Preston Royal Hospital, and Royal Blackburn Hospital were chosen to become ‘centres of excellence’.
Additionally, a screening programme to drastically reduce the need for emergency surgeries and replace it with much more controlled and planned treatments, is set to begin in January, 2013.
At a meeting of Kendal Town Council, members expressed their concern at the distances patients in south Cumbria across to Barrow and into remote parts of the Lake District will have to travel for emergency operations.
MP Tim Farron has also voiced his objections, tabling an early day motion in the House of Commons and saying the move would leave “the vast geographical areas between south Cumbria and north Lancashire dangerously uncovered.”
An appeal has been lodged by the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay Trust after it was not selected to deliver a centre of excellence at Lancaster Royal Infirmary.
Commissioners said they felt the Trust was unlikely to prove successful in ‘transitioning the service to take on a catchment population of at least 800,000’ - the number each centre will need to cater for to cover the population from Dumfries and Galloway down to Bolton and Wigan.
They also said they were aware of recent concerns the Care Quality Commission has voiced about the Trust, but that it did not form part of the scoring process.
Kendal councillor Matthew Severn said that there was no doubt over the screening programme, but that Lancaster could have been chosen.
“Why dismantle an effective team there and dispatch them off?” he asked.
“The Trust is improving and changing. Carlisle hospital has also had its problems; some of the factors apparently being held against the UHMBT have not been held against Carlisle.”
He said there would be a knock-on effect as a vascular surgery reduction in other hospitals could render them unable to carry out more complex surgeries.
But Dr Jim Gardner, Medical Director for NHS North Lancashire, said: “Vascular surgeons will not be removed from local hospitals. Barrow, Lancaster and Kendal will continue to play a pivotal role in primary care management and prevention, diagnostics and investigations, day case procedures and outpatient follow-up care.”
He added: “Many highly successful district hospitals in the UK do not perform arterial surgery and have surgeons who continue to perform other types of surgery, and continue to do that successfully.”
And answering councillors’ concerns about travel time he said that while a maximum patient transfer time of 90 minutes has been agreed, as the screening programme comes into effect, transit times will not be as big an issue.
“The future should be a calm, controlled, measured experience where problems are identified early,” he said.
Coun Austen Robinson said: “In this particular part of the world it is a concern that vascular services is last in a line of services that are being centralised elsewhere.
“It might only affect a few people per year, but that could be on top of 10 of something else and 10 of something else.”
And Dr Gardner warned the accreditation process cannot begin until the UHMBT’s appeal is settled, which means in the meantime patients will have to travel to accredited centres in Newcastle and Manchester.
“There is a sense of urgency now to get centre accredited and move on,” he said.
Dr Gardner agreed a public meeting could be held to give residents a chance to have their say.