Cancer unit medics warn of patient safety risks

MORE than 80 medics at a major cancer unit have warned that a shake-up of hospital services poses “significant risks” to patient safety.

Medics at the Beatson have voiced concerns over a planned shake-up of hospital services. Picture: PA
Medics at the Beatson have voiced concerns over a planned shake-up of hospital services. Picture: PA

Doctors at the Beatson West of Scotland Cancer Centre (BWoSCC) in Glasgow have written a letter outlining the “desperate situation” facing patients, staff and the cancer service which serves more than half of Scotland.

They claim the reconfiguration of hospital services in the city will see the removal of acute medical support services from the site by the end of next week.

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The signatories have called for urgent action amid fears that junior doctors will be left in charge out of hours and that there would be inadequate staffing for resuscitating patients at such times.

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it would never implement any change that put the safety of patients at risk.

Health Secretary Shona Robison said the clinicians’ views “need to be fully addressed”.

The letter reportedly sent to Ms Robison, printed in full on the STV News website, is signed by 56 professors and consultants, and more junior staff at the Beatson, one of the largest cancer centres in Europe.

It comes as the health board focuses many of its services at the new South Glasgow University Hospital complex.

Of the Beatson, the letter says: “The removal of acute medical support services from this site will be complete by the end of next week. We believe this poses significant risks to patient safety.”

Analysis carried out last year was said to have concluded that the minimum on-site requirement for the cancer centre would be 24/7 anaesthetic cover and high dependency unit (HDU) facilities.

But the letter states: “There is to be no HDU and no 24 hour anaesthetic cover, beyond an ill defined ‘temporary arrangement’ with no grade of staff specified.

“The hospital at night team will be covering the cancer centre and also general medical and post-op surgical wards and medicine for the elderly wards in the co-located general hospital.”

Oncology trainees will now be “pressed to provide resident on-call” care without “updated critical care training”.

The document adds that there is “no clear plan” in place for who would stabilise deteriorating patients and transfer them off site to new hospital.

The out of hours cover proposed is “a risk to patient safety” the letter states.

It concludes: “This is a desperate situation which we have done our utmost to avoid but we now find ourselves, our patients and the cancer service for more than half of Scotland faced with very immediate risks.”

Ms Robison said: “The views of clinicians including those at the Beatson are extremely important and need to be fully addressed.

“The Chief Medical Officer, Catherine Calderwood, has had constructive discussions with the chair of the consultants committee around the need for all parties to commit to resolving these concerns.

“It is vital that the health board addresses the issues raised so that the move can go ahead with the support of the clinicians. I have spoken to the chairman of NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde and had assurance this will happen.”

A statement on the health board’s website said: “We acknowledge their concerns and have been working to put in place actions in the immediate short term that address the concerns raised. Unfortunately this has taken longer than we would have wished or expected.

“Following a meeting with the consultants last Thursday a letter has been sent to all consultants at the BWoSCC that sets out the actions we have agreed to take forward with them and confirming a further meeting with them next week.

“We have agreed to put in place an infrastructure to support the BWoSCC when the initial changes are introduced including a four bedded high acuity unit which will be operational seven days a week and staffed by nursing colleagues from the current critical care teams.

“Plans are also in place to include critical care training for oncology nursing staff.

“In the interim period we will also provide resident overnight anaesthetic cover to the unit and will identify a named anaesthetic contact for daytime patient management issues.”