Redbridge health trust must consult public before closing cancer unit permanently, councillors say

King George Hospital, in Goodmayes.

King George Hospital, in Goodmayes. - Credit: Archant

A hospital trust has been accused of closing a chemotherapy unit too quickly following a staff exodus.

The unit at King George Hospital, in Barley Lane, Goodmayes closed in November last year due concerns over safety amid unforeseen staffing shortages – two nurses going on maternity leave at once.

All cancer treatment units are now based at Queen’s Hospital in Romford.

The Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals Trust (BHRUT) said chemotherapy nurse vacancies were difficult to fill due to a national shortage of trained individuals.

A replacement “Living with and Beyond Cancer” hub has opened at King George hospital, offering health and wellbeing support to patients, which a trust officer described as “just as important” to cancer recovery as clinical treatment.

But Redbridge councillors were not happy at a health scrutiny committee meeting this week, arguing the trust must consult the public on the permanent closure of the chemotherapy unit before it can go ahead.

Cllr Neil Zammett, of Goodmayes ward, said: “Redbridge Council is looking to take legal advice on the consultation issues.

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“For a permanent closure the trust needs to consult the public, but there has not yet been any real consultation that I can see.

“We thought we had an agreement with the trust that patients’ voices should be heard.”

Dr Sherif Raouf, clinical lead for cancer, claimed that the public was warming to the new set up.

He said: “The feedback has been extremely positive from service users, including 44 patients who were transferred from King George to Queen’s to receive ongoing cancer treatment.

“Nobody should be disadvantaged by the move.”

Cllr Zammett added: “While the feedback has been positive, these are vulnerable people undergoing cancer treatment who are looking to you to save their lives.

“There is a risk of any negative points being downplayed.”

Councillors asked whether there was an opportunity for patients to give anonymous feedback.

Christopher Bown, interim chief executive of BHRUT, said: “We were clear that we were not asked to publicly consult on the closure of the chemotherapy unit and we have moved forward in all good faith.

“It is also not for the trust to consult, but the Clinical Commissioning Groups, which we have spoken to and which do not support that course of action.

“The changes we wanted to see as part of our long-term plan were simply accelerated by a shortage of nurses, the unit was not safe.”

Cllr Beverley Brewer, of South Woodford ward, added: “If this committee lets this closure go unchallenged, we would be setting a precedent for other parts of the NHS to be rapidly closed in the same way.

“Parliament gave local authorities these roles for a reason, we have a duty to protect the interests of East Londoners who elected us.”

The health scrutiny committee agreed to ensure public consultation would be carried out on the permanent closure of the chemotherapy unit at King George Hospital, but exactly what form that consultation would take is yet to be decided.