Brentwood cancer patient grateful for NHS Covid partnership with private sector

A cancer patient who received treatment at a private hospital thanks to a partnership with the NHS has told of how grateful she is to its staff.

Around 7,500 NHS patients have received cancer and other urgent treatment at Spire Hartswood Hospital in Brentwood, under a historic agreement between Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust.

Among them was Pamela Austin, who found out she had cancer at the height of the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Pamela said: “Being diagnosed with cancer by the gynaecological team at Queen’s Hospital, Romford during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic came as a complete shock.

“I was so grateful to have surgery at Spire Hartswood, under the care of Miss Mukhopadhyay, where the expertise of the whole team was exemplary at every stage of my treatment.

“My lasting memories of Spire Hartswood are of the many smiling, friendly and caring eyes peeping over the inevitable, but essential, face masks. Thank you all so much for supporting the NHS and especially for my own care.”

A drop in cancer referrals has sparked concerns that people are not getting the treatment they need.

A total of 3,739 people with suspected cancer symptoms were referred by their GP in Essex for diagnostic checks in May – about 40 per cent down from the 6,432 referred in May 2019.

The steepest drop of 64 per cent was seen in Southend, where the number of referrals fell from 617 in May 2019 to 222 in May 2020.

There was a 45 per cent drop in the Basildon and Brentwood CCG area – from 1,102 in May 2019 to 607 in May 2020.

In mid Essex there was a 33 per cent drop from 1,148 in May 2019 to 771 in May 2020.

The hospital has likewise seen large drops in cancer patients – Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust saw 2,828 in July 2019. In July 2020 it saw 2,134.

During the peak of the pandemic, Spire transformed itself into a dedicated cancer centre.

Since then, NHS patients requiring surgery for urological, breast, neurological and gynaecological cancer have come to Spire to receive their treatment, and for many months, Spire took over the whole of BHRUT’s skin cancer service.

The majority of the Trust’s chemotherapy service, along with a number of clinicians, relocated to Spire in just one week during the peak of the pandemic. While most chemotherapy patients are now back receiving their treatment at Queen’s Hospital, with additional safety precautions in place, BHRUT and Spire doctors, nurses and therapists continue to work together to ensure cancer patients continue to get the care they need.

Meanwhile, Spire Hartswood’s ambulatory care unit was repurposed as a centre for patients to receive drug treatment through infusion.

The partnership, which enabled the Trust to focus on treating Covid-19 patients, was made possible under a national agreement, which Spire, alongside most of the independent sector, has signed to make staff, equipment and facilities available to the NHS at cost only to help alleviate the pressure caused by the pandemic.

The care provided for local patients has been more varied at Spire Hartswood than at most of Spire’s hospitals across the country.

At the start of the peak, it became a centre for Covid-19 patients to recover, after spending the most acute phase of their illness in BHRUT’s hospitals.

In the coming weeks, Spire Hartswood will help to reduce NHS waiting lists by providing routine surgery for NHS patients, alongside its ongoing work to deliver cancer care.

Spire Hartswood’s hospital director, Jo Dean, said: “I am very proud of the support we have been able to offer the NHS during this unprecedented national emergency and humbled that we have been able to provide care to so many patients who would otherwise have seen their treatment delayed.

“I would like to pay tribute to all of our colleagues here at Hartswood for the way in which they have responded to every challenge we have faced. The way in which teams from Spire and the NHS have worked so closely together to deliver outstanding care to patients has been phenomenal.

“The next challenge is to reduce the size of the waiting list resulting from the pandemic and keep waiting times for patients as short as possible. I’m pleased that we’re able to do our bit to help.”

Magda Smith, chief medical officer at BHRUT, added: “Our main priority throughout the pandemic has been to keep our patients safe. We know how vulnerable cancer patients can be, so I’m delighted that we were able to work with Spire to ensure treatment for these patients could continue to go ahead safely.

“It was quite an undertaking to relocate a huge chunk of our chemotherapy service within a week, so I’m extremely proud of our team, and everyone at Spire, for working together to make it happen to help us during the peak.

“We reintroduced surgery at King George Hospital in July, after putting in place a raft of measures to keep our patients safe, including a Covid protected green zone. However, I am pleased that our partnership with Spire will continue, allowing us to ensure all our patients get the care they need.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter