City cancer ward faces cutbacks

THE city’s only specialist breast cancer ward could close at weekends as part of a cost-cutting exercise.

Fears have been expressed for patients and staff after NHS Lothian said it was looking to reduce Ward Six at the Western General to a five-days-a-week service.

It comes just months after the operating theatre there was given a £2 million refurbishment thanks to breast cancer charity the Moonwalk, with other areas of the ward also given a revamp.

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Health chiefs said it made sense to carry out the majority of care through the week, and insisted that patients would not be adversely affected by the move.

Health board sources said such cost-cutting moves may be necessary across other services if savings targets of £50 million are to be met.

Labour’s health spokeswoman Jackie Baillie said: “As a participant in the Moonwalk I’m very disappointed at the possibility of a reduction in service in what appears to be purely a cost-cutting measure.

“We want to maintain the positive treatment and detection of breast cancer and need the best possible service for this to happen.”

Patients also voiced their disappointment at the move. Carolyn Williams, 67, recently spent six days in the Edinburgh Breast Unit after undergoing a bilateral mastectomy.

She said: “All the patients were up in arms when they heard about this. It seems crazy and it will be a great inconvenience to patients.

“The nurses in the ward are unbelievable and know exactly what they are doing and have been specially trained.”

However, health chiefs are at pains to point out the same level of service will be available, and that an increase in procedures taking place during the week will actually be of benefit. The cut in hours will also mean staff have to be redeployed. And while NHS Lothian is confident of this, the Royal College of Nursing in Edinburgh vowed to scrutinise the process.

Its officer for NHS Lothian, Lynn McDowall, said: “If the board does press ahead with the changes, we will be ensuring that any members who are affected are sufficiently supported so that they can continue to provide high- quality patient care in the specialist area in which they have built up so much experience.”

Jackie Sansbury, chief operating officer NHS Lothian, said: “Improvements made have led to a reduction in the length of stay for many patients, and an increase in the number of patients who can be treated without the need for an overnight stay.

“We have had an informal meeting with staff to discuss the proposed changes, but no decision has yet been made as to whether this will go ahead.”