Plans to relocate surgeons will risk lives, panel told

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PRESSURE is mounting on health leaders who want to take life-saving expert surgeons away from Queen Alexandra Hospital.

Members of Portsmouth City Council’s health overview and scrutiny panel yesterday told regional officials from NHS South Central they have grave concerns about proposals to move vascular surgeons, who operate on damaged and ruptured blood vessels, to Southampton General Hospital.

Doctors have warned that the surgeons provide a vital service and that moving them could cost lives.

During a meeting of the health panel at Portsmouth Guildhall, councillors criticised regional chiefs for only bringing one option to the table and not considering the potential negative impacts of moving the surgeons.

Cllr David Horne said: ‘The only option we’ve seen at the moment is to move from Portsmouth to Southampton. Why is only one option being looked at?

‘I would like to see a lot more information than we have at the moment. We need information about the impact on other services at QA, more options – not just the one we’re seeing here, and the cost implications if vascular services moved.’

Cllr Peter Edgar said: ‘If this service were to be withdrawn it would have a dramatic effect on the number of operations that could be safely carried out. Lives would be put at risk because of the need for the patient to journey to Southampton or wait at least half and hour for a vascular surgeon to travel from Southampton to QA.’

QA vascular surgeon Graham Sutton told the meeting: ‘In my view the [vascular review panel] have made two errors in their assessment – they’ve overestimated the potential gain from centralising to Southampton and on the other side, they are underestimating the impact of the loss of vascular surgery to the Portsmouth population. To me, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.’

Meanwhile a letter from members of the council of governors at QA was read out. It said: ‘From what we have seen and heard there appears to be a predetermined decision to move the service from Portsmouth to Southampton. What is the point in having a consultation process if the decision has already been made? We have genuine concerns about the integrity of the consultation process.

‘We believe that the case for centralisation of vascular services at Southampton is both factually flawed and weak.’

Representatives from NHS South Central sought to alleviate concerns.

Simon Cook, the associate director of acute care at the regional health authority, said: ‘The purpose of this process is to improve patient outcomes and to secure sustainability of services in the long term. No decisions have yet been made. What’s happened so far is a review panel has made a recommendation. Clearly we need to look at any other options and take into account concerns.’

But Mr Cook said ‘standing still was not an option’ as the Vascular Society of Great Britain had highlighted a problem in the outcomes of vascular surgery in this country – which are not as good as other European countries, and highlighted bigger centres perform better. Mr Cook said a decision should be made by the end of the year but did not announce any dates for when the public consultation would start.