When 10 minutes is vital to save life

THE victim of a recent stabbing in St Ives owes his life to the fact that he was taken no further than Hinchingbrooke for emergency treatment, according to one of the hospital s A&E consultants. Another 10 minutes and he would have been a gonner, surgeo

THE victim of a recent stabbing in St Ives owes his life to the fact that he was taken no further than Hinchingbrooke for emergency treatment, according to one of the hospital's A&E consultants.

"Another 10 minutes and he would have been a gonner," surgeon Ratam Das told The Hunts Post, as he waited for Tory leader David Cameron to negotiate one of the principal contributors to A&E activity, the A14.

Instead of dying in the ambulance on the way to Addenbrooke's in Cambridge or Peterborough hospital, the stabbing victim arrived in a semi-coma at Hinchingbrooke with very low blood pressure and with huge quantities of blood from his wounds preventing his heart from working properly, Mr Das said.

Hinchingbrooke stabilised him and set him up for an operation by chest specialists at Papworth Hospital.

Remarkably, the patient was recovering at home within a week.

Shortly before that, a fit but elderly patient was brought in with a burst aneurysm (a weakness in a major blood vessel).

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"His colour was like a sheet of paper," Mr Das said. He was stabilised in A&E before being patched up by a vascular surgeon at Addenbrooke's. He, too, would have died in the ambulance if taken directly to Cambridge. Such treatment is beyond the scope of paramedics.

"These incidents don't happen every week," explained the 17-year veteran of Hinchingbrooke. "But we would unquestionably lose patients if A&E closed here."

Hinchingbrooke's overwhelming clinical success - it was one of only two acute trusts in the country to receive a full house of three "excellent" ratings from the Healthcare Commission this year - is down to the hospital's "almost unique" ability to get patients seen by a consultant at the top of his or her profession, rather than by a more junior trainee specialist.

Because of Hinchingbrooke's comparatively small catchment area, it has made arrangements to share consultants with neighbouring foundation trusts, giving patients access to the finest care.

But Mr Das fears that, if significant services are removed from Hinchingbrooke, the quality of healthcare will depend ultimately on how close they live to a hospital to which services are moved.

Departments at a properly organised hospital are so intrinsically linked that they cannot be separated, he explained.

"You either have an acute hospital or you make do with a cottage hospital or a poly-clinic," he warned.

There is a strong feeling among consultants that they have become victims of their own clinical success. They provide efficient and effective treatment and vaporise waiting times, only to discover there is no money to pay for the patients they have diagnosed and cured.

Instead, they fear, cash is being diverted towards "the latest healthcare fad, the super-hospital" with a much larger catchment area, with patients having to travel sometimes large distances to routine healthcare, rather than being treated closer to their homes.

Consultant colleagues agree and are particularly concerned by the effect of the uncertainty on staff morale and willingness to stay at Hinchingbrooke when the future remains uncharted.

"It's quite difficult at the moment because the uncertainty seems interminable," added consultant radiologist Catherine Hubbard, one of the authors of a recent letter in support of the hospital on behalf of every consultant and GP in the district. "We are losing people, but not yet to the extent of criticality," so whole services are not yet at risk from staff shortages.