'We fear for the future of breast care service at Grantham'
A Grantham couple who raised thousands of pounds to help launch a breast cancer care unit at Grantham Hospital fear the unit may never become a reality because the hospitals trust now favours a centre of excellence in Lincoln.
Arthur and Jackie Whatley raised about £30,000 from public donations through the Breast Cancer Support Group to help launch the Emerald Suite breast care unit in 2014.
Unfortunately, the unit was soon reduced to a fraction of its capability because United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) could not recruit a radiologist to work there.
Nevertheless, over recent years ULHT has said that Grantham was still the focus for a centre of excellence where patients from all over the county would be seen.
The Emerald Suite was intended to be a ‘fast track’ system, taking patients from tests to diagnosis to treatment and support quickly.
Campaigners, fund-raisers and Grantham MP Nick Boles have all demanded answers from ULHT in recent years over its use and future but the Emerald Suite has still laid largely dormant.
Mr Whatley said: “It’s upsetting after all that hard work to get the Emerald Suite up and running. I had to go to the hospital a few months ago for a scan and went into the Emerald Suite and it was like a ghost town. It is being used for other things and not for the purpose it was supposed to be used for.”
A large amount of money raised by Mr and Mrs Whatley, much of it from the people of Grantham, still remains in trust.
Mr Whatley said: “The money is still in trust and people say they don’t want to pay into the Emerald Suite until they know what is happening. But it is all dragging on.”
Mr Whatley said that if the Emerald Suite did not become a centre of excellence for breast care then the support group would decide what else to do with the money. But he said it would definitely go to Grantham Hospital.
He said: “Obviously I would like that unit to be used for what it was supposed to be used for, but things are dragging on now. It’s very sad. We have our fingers crossed. We still want these services to go to Grantham. People just want to know what is happening so we can decide where the money will go in the hospital.”
Mr Whatley admitted that as time goes on hopes for a centre of excellence at Grantham are dwindling. He added: “It’s a shame because Lincoln doesn’t have that room to expand and Grantham has plenty of room so it could easily become a centre of excellence.”
As consultation and engagement events, called the Healthy Conversation, continue in the town and throughout the county, Lincolnshire NHS is now veering towards a centre of excellence for breast care in Lincoln. On the Healthy Conversation website, it says: “Our emerging options indicate that this centre of excellence could be at Lincoln Hospital, or Grantham Hospital. The NHS’s current preferred emerging option is Lincoln Hospital for this centre of excellence as it requires the least amount of capital funding. If located at Grantham, any complex breast surgery required would be done at Lincoln.”
The statement added: “We think that a centre of excellence approach would work well in Lincolnshire, and has already proven so in rural Cornwall. We think this will help us address the quality of care issues and shortage of specialist staff.
“In practice this emerging option would mean that all follow-up outpatient appointments and routine breast mammography screening services would continue to be available across the county as they are now.”
A spokesman for Lincolnshire Community Health Services NHS Trust claimed: “If Lincoln does become a centre of excellence for breast services, local services (including routine screening appointments) would still be provided at Grantham and District Hospital.”
Grantham county and district Coun Ray Wootten said he had raised the issue of breast care services and it has been agreed this will be raised at the next meeting of the Health Scrutiny Committee in Lincoln.
Fpr more information on the future of breast care services in the county go to www.lincolnshire.nhs.uk/healthy-conversation/what-conversation-about/Acute-Service-Review/breast-services