Cancer patients turned away as bed crisis hits Castle Hill and Hull Royal hospitals
CANCER patients are facing delays in treatment because elderly people with dementia have been moved on to their ward.
Patients at Castle Hill Hospital's Queen's Centre for Oncology and Haematology have been told tests and procedures cannot be carried out because the unit is having to find beds for elderly people from Hull Royal Infirmary.
While some of the elderly patients have cancer, the unit has been forced to find spaces for other patients with Alzheimer's because of bed shortages and the partial-closure of wards due to norovirus.
Andy Nolan, whose wife is undergoing treatment for breast cancer, has told how a potentially life-saving biopsy was cancelled due to a lack of beds.
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Mr Nolan, 38, said: "She was told she couldn't have a biopsy because there wasn't a bed for her and she needed six hours' rest afterwards.
"We got down to the place where the biopsy was going to be and her medical notes weren't there.
"Then we were told if she didn't have a ward to go back to, she couldn't have the procedure.
"We were told the oncology wards were over-run by patients with dementia from Hull Royal clogging up beds. The Queen's Centre is supposed to be a 'centre for excellence'.
"We know the staff are angry at the situation, too. It is a nightmare."
Chief medical officer Dr Yvette Oade said both hospitals have been under considerable pressure since the festive period.
However, there are growing fears the bed blocking problem is a taste of things to come as hospital bosses deal with drastic, multi-million pound cuts in the NHS budget.
Mr Nolan, of Skirlaugh, was told the biopsy was vital to his wife's care after she had tried six different treatments during her eight-year cancer battle.
But a specialist from Leeds told her a biopsy could prove she had a different strain of breast cancer, which would need a different type of treatment to what she has received in the past. A new diagnosis could be a last chance hope for Mr Nolan's partner, as they were told the chemotherapy she was previously receiving wasn't working.
The couple had an appointment for the biopsy at Castle Hill on Wednesday, but were turned away when they were told Wards 30 and 31 – the wards she would have been sent to for recovery – were full.
Mr Nolan said: "When we arrived the nurse needed to take some blood, but she did it in the day room.
"It is like a waiting room where patients and friends are sitting before they go in.
"I asked about its cleanliness, and the nurse said it was sterilised every day, but there were magazines everywhere that people had touched, so it clearly wasn't as clean as a proper room.
"We spoke to another member of staff and she said they were over-run with patients.
"Other patients were coming in and being told the same thing – so we were not the only ones."
Mr Nolan's wife now has to wait for a new date after her biopsy was postponed.
Four wards at Hull Royal and one at Castle Hill were partially closed last week due to norovirus.
The wards affected were Wards 8, 11, 100 and 110 at Hull Royal and Ward 22 at Castle Hill Hospital.
There have also been substantial increases in new patients, especially at A&E, due to the snow and severe weather conditions.
On top of norovirus and bad weather, the two hospitals – both of which are run by Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust – are having to make substantial savings in the next five years.
The trust must save £99m by 2018.
The savings have not gone unnoticed, and have already led to union marches and demonstrations in Hull.
The fear is that Mr Nolan's experience of the hospital is just a taster of what is to come.
Mr Nolan said: "If they are going to cut so many millions of pounds from the NHS, then there is going to be a noticeable affect, and a backlash on patients.
"I'm not saying chuck out elderly patients on the street, but when you go somewhere for specialist cancer treatment, you expect to get it."
Dr Yvette Oade, chief medical officer at Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, admits the hospitals have been under considerable pressure since the festive period.
She said: "Wherever possible, elderly patients are being cared for in Care of the Elderly wards.
"The trust has sustained a very high level of demand for medical care since Christmas. Many of the patients are elderly, frail and poorly.
"Further pressure has been caused by high numbers of patients with norovirus and we have several ward areas closed because of this."
She also said that the beds are not being used up to the detriment of people who need emergency treatment.
Ms Oade said: "We cannot discuss any individual patient's case, but the trust is ensuring that any patient that requires urgent care, whether it is cancer or any other condition, is being treated appropriately and with the necessary urgency."