Cancer patients at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital face possible delays to their treatment due to a major shortage of specialist nurses, according to a leaked memo.
The memo by Dr Andrew Weaver was circulated to staff, warning the number of chemotherapy cycles offered to the terminally ill would have to be cut because of a lack of staff trained to deal with medication.
In the memo which was leaked to The Times, it said proposals set out by the head of chemotherapy for Oxford University Hospitals Trust are believed to be ‘unprecedented’.
But the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust says no decisions have been made as far as delaying treatment is concerned or regarding the number of cycles.
According to The Times, Dr Weaver said: “Currently we are down approximately 40 per cent on the establishment of nurses on DTU [day treatment unit] and as a consequence we are having to delay chemotherapy patients’ starting times to four weeks.
“For example where normally six cycles are given then teams should consider reducing to four cycles in total.
“I know that many of us will find it difficult to accept these changes but the bottom line is that the current situation with limited numbers of staff is unsustainable.”
Dr Weaver added that, while he wants to protect treatments that aim to cure patients, chemotherapy cycles for later treatments that alleviate symptoms will have to be spaced out further or cut down.
The newspaper said the memo warned there is ‘no prospect for improvement’ for at least 18 months to two years.
A spokesperson from OUH reassured patients no changes have been made nor would they without full consultation.
The spokesperson said: “The internal email from Dr Andrew Weaver sets out some of the challenges facing our chemotherapy service, with his ideas for how to tackle these issues, and invites constructive comments and alternative proposals from other cancer doctors and clinical staff.
“However, it does not represent a change to our formal policy for chemotherapy treatment.”
He added: “Any decision to change the approach to cancer treatment so significantly would require a thorough assessment of the potential impact on the quality and safety of treatment and care provided to cancer patients.”
He acknowledged the “ongoing challenge to recruit nursing staff”
Theresa May was challenged over the leaked memo during today’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
She echoed comments from the OUH, saying there are “absolutely no plans” to delay chemotherapy or reduce the number of cycles for patients in Oxfordshire.