Lancashire Teaching Hospitals has insisted that no patients needing radiotherapy or chemotherapy were among cancer sufferers whose operations were cancelled this week.
The trust, which runs Royal Preston Hospital and Chorley and South Ribble Hospital, postponed all ‘non-urgent’ surgery after it said it was swamped by an ‘unprecedented’ and ‘extraordinary’ number of attendances.
It responded to claims made by an insider at the Fulwood site, who told the Evening Post staff had been told to turn away even the most seriously ill cancer patients.
The manager said she believed the real reason for the trust being unable to cope with demand was ‘mismanagement’ and ‘staffing issues’.
She said: “I’m really concerned about critically ill patients not being seen. Chorley Hospital is the same.
“The main thing causing concern is that stage three and four cancer patients are being turned away.
“These are patients that need radical surgery to alleviate symptoms - some probably will be cured eventually with the treatment, but the rest are palliative care patients who they are giving radiotherapy and chemotherapy to, to alleviate symptoms and to prolong their quality of life.
“They have said this will be reassessed on Monday but that is a best case scenario.”
The anonymous whistleblower told the Evening Post on Wednesday night there were empty beds free “all over the hospital”, four empty operating theatres and on some wards nurses “twiddling their thumbs”.
She said: “We’ve all been told not to talk to anybody about it. It’s a staffing issue.
“We have consultants who have been authorised to take leave and four or five of the same speciality on leave at the same time, which shouldn’t be happening.
“They are trying to say it’s not a staffing issue but the problem is they are trying to recover funds and they are not replacing wastage or covering staff who are off.
“Personally today I’ve cancelled 45 patients. You can imagine how the patients feel.
“The staff are frustrated as you can imagine. This is a management problem.”
The trust said it had postponed around 100 operations, which included a small number of cancer patients.
Karen Partington, the trust’s chief executive, said yesterday: “We took a series of actions this week to make sure we could provide safe and effective care for patients currently in hospital and to ensure we could admit and treat any patients with life and limb threatening illness and injury.
“We have postponed a number of planned procedures and have temporarily redeployed staff to where they are needed most.
“The actions we have taken are beginning to create some capacity and we are working towards resuming normal service. Some elective work has been undertaken today and further procedures are scheduled for tomorrow.
“However, we remain under significant pressure and will continue to monitor the situation and take any action necessary to ensure we can provide the high standards of care our patients deserve.
“We appreciate that postponing planned treatment causes inconvenience and anxiety and we apologise to every patient whose care has been disrupted. We are now in the process of contacting every patient who has been affected to reschedule their care.”
Tim Ellis, Unison’s regional officer for Lancashire, said the NHS was being “pulled apart” and patients were suffering.
He said community care for people with chronic conditions was not working properly because it had been repeatedly reorganised and starved of funding, which meant these patients were attending hospital when they shouldn’t be.
Mr Ellis said cuts in social care also meant that vulnerable people ready to be discharged from hospital who could not support themselves at home slowed down the discharge of patients.
He said: “In the middle of this it’s difficult for the hospitals to take all the pressure. They are dealing with millions of pounds of cuts as well.
“Our members and staff are working incredibly hard and are very worried about these delays in patient care.”
Terminally ill lung cancer patient Ron Gordon, 60, of Pole Street, Preston has just finished a radiotherapy course.
He said: “Anybody knows at any point cancer can travel to a secondary position in the body. Even if it’s in a week’s time that may be too late.
“They need to get their act together. They are playing Russian Roulette with people’s lives.”
Chorley councillor Julia Berry, who sits on the governing council at the hospital, called for an inquiry.
She said: “I don’t think it’s unprecedented, I think it’s a staffing issue. It can’t be bed blocking if there are empty beds.
“How can this be allowed to happen when they pride themselves on being a flagship centre for cancer?
“It’s absolutely shocking. It must be so upsetting for the people affected.”
Sally Proctor, family support manager at local cancer charity Vine House, said a cancellation had a major impact on patients and their families who had “psyched themselves up” for an operation.
She said: “There are pressures on the NHS and staff cuts but the unnecessary trauma it causes people I think is despicable.”