Letter: The NHS 'is grinding to a halt'

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The Independent Online
Sir: A complaint from one of my constituents, who lives in Havering, highlights how the Government's health service changes have been seriously worsening the condition of cancer sufferers.

During April this year, my constituent was referred by her non-fund-holding GP to a surgeon at Oldchurch Hospital. Three weeks later, when no appointment had been made, she rang the surgeon's secretary only to find that no referral letter had been received. Bearing in mind she had the symptoms of stomach cancer, she was seen by the general surgeon at Oldchurch Hospital on 16 May, who told her that she would have to have an endoscopy and an ultrasound test to establish the reason for her symptoms. It was yet another month before she had the tests. Meanwhile, she was losing weight as she was unable to eat a normal diet.

Finally, after the test proved she had a stomach tumour, she was operated on in July and is now making a slow recovery, having lost two and a half stone. Much of the above could have been avoided had she been treated as an urgent case.

Six years ago she had a mastectomy and was operated on within five days of diagnosis.

It is criminal that referral letters of such patients are held back unless their doctors are fund-holding. Had she been prepared to pay, she could have been seen by a surgeon even earlier.

This means we have three- tier medicine: (1) private patients; (2) fund-holding GPs' patients; (3) non-fund-holding GPs' patients.

I do not feel thatthe GP and surgeon are to blame. They are doing excellent work under increasing pressures, while non- medical managers are interfering with clinical decisions; consequently, sick patients suffer more than is necessary.

What is wrong with the concept enshrined in the 1948 NHS Act when sick people were seen and treated in order of need, rather than their ability to pay or to be on the list of fund-holding doctors?

Yours sincerely,

CAROLE TONGUE

MEP for London East (Lab)

Ilford,

Essex

15 September

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