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Anger over cancer surgery plans

PUBLISHED: 12:10 20 December 2008 | UPDATED: 22:04 05 July 2010

NORFOLK and Suffolk patients needing surgery for cancer of the pancreas could face a 125-mile round trip under plans to centralise the service in Cambridge.

NORFOLK and Suffolk patients needing surgery for cancer of the pancreas could face a 125-mile round trip under plans to centralise the service in Cambridge.

Patients and surgeons in Norwich are angry about the proposals, which are designed to improve the quality of treatment. A public consultation is due to start in February or March about the plan to stop pancreatic surgery at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and Ipswich Hospital and to move it to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge.

Cancer of the pancreas is relatively rare, with 31 new cases at the N&N in the last 12 months. Nationally it has the worst survival rates of any cancer - only around 13pc of patients survive for more than a year after diagnosis. The proposals would only affect the surgery, with diagnosis and treatment staying at existing hospitals. The East of England Specialised Commissioning Group, which is behind the plans, says that 40 to 80 people a year in the region need surgery for the cancer.

The group said the change was to improve survival rates and that larger centres were a requirement of the Department of Health's Improving Outcomes Guidance.

A spokesman said: “Based on international evidence, the chances of survival are better if patients can receive the specialised expertise of a highly trained team serving a population of two million to four million. Teams working with more cases per year than smaller centres achieve better outcomes for patients.

“None of the three current specialist teams in Cambridge, Ipswich and Norwich is fully compliant with the guidance. They do not serve a large enough population to develop and maintain the advanced expertise that is appropriate for such a rare cancer.”

She said two independent reviews had found that Cambridge was closest to meeting the guidelines, so it was being recommended as the centre, but a final decision had not been made.

A recent peer review of cancer services gave the N&N pancreatic team a higher score for quality measures than Addenbrooke's.

Simon Wemyss-Holden, cancer lead director at the N&N and a specialist in pancreatic cancer, said: “It is crazy to think about moving services from either place based on population and not on outcomes.

“Both Addenbrooke's and the N&N offer a fantastic service. Norfolk patients have said if they had to be treated at Addenbrooke's they would have gone without surgery and had local chemotherapy instead, which would have meant worse outcomes.”

The Norfolk and Waveney Cancer Patients and Carers Partnership group has had its own survey of patients, which found that they were opposed to the plans.

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