Breast cancer surgery won’t be returning to Sunderland hospital

Sunderland Royal Hospital.
Sunderland Royal Hospital.
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Health bosses on Wearside have been told they are “letting down” breast cancer sufferers after it was revealed that surgery for patients with the illness will not be returning to Sunderland Royal Hospital.

A service is expected to open in the city within months after NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) awarded a new five-year contract to Gateshead Health NHS Foundation Trust.

We as a group belive that Sunderland Royal Hospital and the CCG have let Sunderland’s breast cancer patients down.

Shirley Williams

The service, which bosses say will see a “major upgrade” of facilities and equipment, will provide a “one-stop service” for diagnostic, review and follow-up treatment at Grindon Lane Primary Care Centre in the city.

But surgery will continue to be provided from the Queen Elizabeth (QE) Hospital in Gateshead and other North East hospitals, not the Royal.

Operations on those with the condition were stopped at Sunderland Royal Hospital at the end of 2014 after a locum surgeon was axed because of a “misdemeanour”.

A lack of consultants was blamed for the decision to halt procedures at the site, with new patients referred to other centres such as the QE or hospitals in Newcastle, Durham, Stockton, Bishop Auckland, Wansbeck, Hexham, and even Middlesbrough for treatment.

Following discussions with bosses at the city’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), the Royal chose to suspend operations after they were unable to recruit a replacement to fill the gap.

Shirley Williams, of the Save Our Service campaign group, today told the Echo the new plans are not good enough.

Mrs Williams, a former Sunderland Social Services welfare rights manager, had a mastectomy last year to remove her right breast after the cancer which she had in 2005 returned.

She was told she had to visit the QE for treatment, something which she initially thought was a mistake when she was informed to go there.

“We’re happy with the fast-track service being brought in for diagnosis as that is going to be a major improvement,” said the 68-year-old, of the East End.

“But we are still in the same position with regards to patients having to travel out of Sunderland to have surgery.”
Mrs Williams added that the group would be writing to the city’s MPs about the matter and are hoping to contact the health secretary Jeremy Hunt.

“We need to do something as this is just not good enough,” she said.

“We as a group believe that Sunderland Royal Hospital and the CCG have let Sunderland’s breast cancer patients down.

“For a year they were saying the situation was temporary, and now they have signed a five-year contract where surgery will not be in Sunderland.”

The new service is expected to begin in April once building work is completed.

Dave Gallagher, chief officer at NHS Sunderland Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “We expect the new service to be a major improvement for patients, with all diagnostic and follow-up services based together in a single, high quality unit with the latest state-of-the-art mammography and ultrasound equipment.

“Some members of a patient group have already visited the new premises we have earmarked and it’s clear that this can be a fantastic facility providing an improved experience for patients.”

“We gathered people’s views through a survey, focus groups and individual interviews, and this gave us valuable insight into patients’ experiences to help us design the new service.

“Comments about the service were overwhelmingly positive, with 99% saying they had confidence in the specialist staff, but we also heard a lot of helpful ideas and suggestions.”

The findings from the engagement process carried out by the CCG are now online at www.sunderlandccg.nhs.uk.