Monday October 30, 2006
A proposal to open up a debt-hit NHS hospital's radiotherapy unit to dogs and cats suffering from cancer came under fire from a union and the Conservatives' health spokesman yesterday.
The suggestion that a pets' clinic could be set up on Saturday mornings to exploit the earning potential of unused equipment came from staff asked to propose ideas to deal with £24m debts at Ipswich hospital in Suffolk. Managers estimated that treatment for pets could earn up to £50,000, enough for two nurses' salaries. The suggestion has been welcomed as "an excellent idea" by the RSPCA."More than 700 ideas were generated by staff to find ways of increasing the money that we have or to find better ways of saving money," said the hospital spokeswoman, Jane Rowsell. "No patient will be disadvantaged by this.
"Our radiotherapy staff have a special interest in this field and wanted to explore whether the equipment could be used in this way on a Saturday morning, when nobody is using it. I am told that radiotherapy has proved to be very effective in treating dogs and cats with cancer."
She said the hospital would control the possibility of infection by using anti-allergy drapes and by thorough cleaning. "The important thing to stress is that this is only a proposal," she said.
But a spokeswoman for Unison, which represents many hospital workers, said yesterday that hospitals should stick to treating sick humans.
"There must be other places where people are waiting for treatment or treatment could be speeded up," she said. "That would be a much better, proper use of the facilities, and £50,000 is neither here or there in terms of debt. Why not use the hospital for humans as it is intended - not for dogs and cats?"
The shadow health secretary, Andrew Lansley, also condemned the plan. "These are the lengths the NHS is being driven to by the government's financial mismanagement and the way deficits are impacting on hospitals. One would normally expect NHS equipment to be fully occupied providing services to NHS patients."
Katherine Murphy, a spokeswoman for the Patients' Association, said she was horrified by the suggestion. "Do we really have to resign ourselves to such desperate measures as to begin treating animals where people are treated?" she said. "Is this really the way forward? I hope this idea never gets off the ground. I think it is a disaster waiting to happen.
"Surely there are other ways of identifying areas where costs could be reduced? Let's keep hospitals for humans."
But David McDowell, the RSPCA's acting chief veterinary adviser, disagreed. "[This] is an excellent idea as long as the strictest hygiene measures are applied to safeguard the health of other users and to avoid any allergic reaction," he said.