Right. Well, there seem to be rumours that, as a result of the plans being referred, there is a real danger that the extra money that we were promised might not materialise or that there could be repercussions for the services at Southend Hospital. I appreciate that the Minister might not be able to comment on that issue at the moment, but in this short debate I hope to set out some of my constituents’ concerns, and my own, about how best to support the world-class services at Southend Hospital and ensure that everyone in all four constituencies receives the best possible care.
Southend has always been absolutely at the top of cancer services generally. I will not delay the House by listing all the organisations that have had a hand in delivering cancer services there, but Southend has always been very highly regarded. From its gynaecology training coming top in the UK and its trauma and orthopaedic team being named training hospital of the year to its world-leading practice standards for cancer care, Southend Hospital has lots to celebrate about its services and patient care. The radiotherapy department deserves particular mention in the light of its recent CHKS accreditation for its pioneering radiation treatment, as well as its high ratings from the Care Quality Commission. The centre has led the way in utilising highly focused and concentrated radiation treatment on tumours that reduces harm to surrounding organs. It has treated more than 1,700 patients this year and is a great example of the importance of investment in driving world-leading research and developing innovative treatments.
This is where the sting comes in. NHS figures show that 36% of Southend cancer patients wait eight weeks for treatment after their initial GP referral. The Minister may have an answer to this, but more than a third seems somewhat high—more than twice the national NHS target. It is vital that more be done to speed up referrals and avoid such unacceptable delays in treatment, which can cause so much worry for patients. With world-class care on their doorstep, our constituents deserve nothing less than fast access to the treatments that they most need. I would welcome any comments from the Minister about speeding up the process.
Southend Hospital is currently trialling a mobile stroke ambulance unit—a pioneering and innovative treatment service that allows specialists to travel directly to patients and treat them en route to the hospital. Data is still being analysed, but clinicians have reported great successes, with specialists being able to deliver life-saving thrombolysis treatment just 16 minutes after the patient alert. That is absolutely incredible. We all know that the sooner a stroke is treated, the more likely a good outcome. Treatment in the first few minutes can make all the difference, so getting patients to a specialist as quickly as possible is imperative. Not only have patient outcomes been improved, but the unit has shown great potential to alleviate pressure on A&E departments. Some 88% of patients in the trial were admitted directly to a specialist stroke unit, freeing up resources across the NHS.
The trial is due to end on
The critical issue of time in stroke care is a great concern for Southend. I appreciate that the Minister will be unable to comment on the STP’s proposed centralisation of stroke services in the constituency that I once represented—Basildon. However, maintaining the established stroke service infrastructure and keeping Southend as a centre of excellence is very important. Whatever the outcomes of reconfiguration, my constituents do not want to see the downgrading of the world-class stroke services in Southend, and patients put at risk.
There is a big issue about transport services, which I know is of great concern to my hon. Friends the Members for Rochford and Southend East and for Castle Point, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford. While Southend Hospital is leading the way in many areas of care, transfer to specialist services is obviously important. Patients are currently transported to acute services across Essex through the “treat and transfer” model. Although that is working in ensuring that patients get access to the specialist treatment they need, a big concern for our constituents is the impact that an expansion to the model could have. Inter-hospital transfers affect not only the patient, but their carers or families. The costs incurred and difficulties experienced by patients and visitors travelling across services need to be taken into careful consideration. It is essential that the local transport services, whether public transport or community transport organisations, can provide the right support to patients and their families.