The breast cancer care unit at Grantham Hospital remains barely used a year after assurances were made that all efforts would be made to restore it.
The unique Emerald Suite – made possible by tens of thousands of pounds donated by Grantham people – was reduced to a fraction of its capability in 2014, just weeks after it was opened.
Fears for its future led volunteers and fund-raisers, who worked hard to create the unit, to demand answers from hospital bosses in June last year. Along with Grantham MP Nick Boles, they met with the senior business manager for the United Lincolnshire Hospitals NHS Trust (ULHT) to be told that difficulty in recruiting a radiologist was the cause of the part closure.
Now, almost a year later, breast cancer patients are still being sent to Lincoln County or Boston Pilgrim hospitals, while the fully equipped Emerald Suite lies dormant.
Leading the call for the unit to fully reopen are well-known Grantham couple Jackie and Arthur Whatley, of Wensleydale Close. Forming part of Grantham’s Breast Cancer Support Group, they are responsible for a huge amount of the money raised to make the unit possible.
Frustrated by being stonewalled by ULHT, Jackie, 59, said: “We deserve some answers. The people of Grantham have put so much into that unit. It’s a beautiful, beautiful suite, and it’s not used.”
Gill Lenton, 69, is a volunteer, giving support to breast cancer sufferers. She said: “I’m speaking on behalf of all the volunteers when I say we need to know what’s going on. We haven’t had any information or feedback [from the trust]. Everything’s going to Lincoln and it shouldn’t be – we want services back in Grantham. We’re all passionate about it and we need our clinic back.”
The Emerald Suite was intended to be a ‘fast track’ system, taking patients from tests to diagnosis to treatment and support quickly. It is one-of-a-kind in that its layout was designed to move patients forward and not send them back through waiting rooms full of people after receiving bad news.
Jackie fought hard to get the unit designed this way, having twice been diagnosed with breast cancer.
She said: “I think they [ULHT] have plans for the unit. It’s all there, another unit could move into it tomorrow.
“If that happened we would be absolutely devastated.”
Arthur added: “The Emerald Suite has been devastated – it’s another loss for the people of Grantham, who have got behind us.
“Cancer hits everybody, no one is immune to it. If this service was taken away it would be terrible.”
Their passion for the Emerald Suite is such that they have £30,000 currently sitting in a fund-raising account which they will hold on to until they feel confident that the unit is safe and will fully reopen.
Jackie said: “I feel I can’t do it anymore – I can’t take money off people if it’s not going to that cause.”
The couple have the full support of Grantham MP Mr Boles. He told the Journal: “I share the frustration of all those who have raised money to support the Emerald Suite at Grantham Hospital that ULHT has still not been able to recruit the skilled staff they need.
“I will be asking the trust to explain how they propose to solve this problem and get the Emerald Suite back into operation for the benefit of local breast cancer sufferers.”
The Journal contacted ULHT to ask what steps have been taken to recruit a radiologist, which services are currently being offered in the unit and whether there is a risk to the future of the Emerald Suite. No statement was provided by the time of going to press.