CANCER patients have been kept waiting for up to FIVE hours before undergoing gruelling chemotherapy sessions at the borough’s main hospital, it has been claimed.
One elderly patient from Stourbridge, who asked not to be identified, told the News he has had to wait for hours on end, sometimes sitting for four to five hours, before his three-hour treatment sessions have got underway at Russells Hall Hospital.
The terminally ill man, aged in his 70s, said on one occasion he arrived at the Dudley hospital's Georgina Day Case Unit at around 1.30pm and didn’t get home until around 9.30pm.
He said: “At my last appointment, which was at 10.35am, they didn’t call me until about 1.30pm; and at the previous one I sat there just over five hours before they saw me, and there was a woman who had been there longer than me.
“This is a very bad way to be treating terminally ill people.
“You’re really knackered after sitting there for four or five hours. The one time they totally forgot I was there and on one occasion another man walked out after waiting three or four hours; he couldn't take it any more and I don't blame him. I'm absolutely disgusted."
The great-grandfather also said that while waiting for hours for his three-hour chemotherapy sessions to start - cancer sufferers arriving for shorter, one-hour sessions were being fast-tracked through.
He added: “It's all down to numbers; they want to make it look good. I’m not blaming the doctors and nurses - they never stop, but I feel sorry for the poor souls that are sitting there."
Paula Clark, chief executive of the Dudley Group of Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust which runs Russells Hall, said: "We do sympathise with our patients who sometimes experience long waits for chemotherapy treatment at Russells Hall Hospital.
"Unfortunately, in common with chemotherapy units across the country, we have seen an increased demand on our cancer services due to more and more people being diagnosed and receiving treatment.
"The Georgina Day Case Unit has a limited number of treatment spaces but the number of patients visiting the department continues to increase."
She said the Trust recently appointed a new lead nurse whose role includes reviewing the ways delays can be cut and Saturday appointments are now being offered to patients receiving blood transfusions to take pressure off the unit on weekdays.
Ms Clark said the Trust was also exploring the possibility of offering chemotherapy in a community setting so patients would not need to attend hospital for treatment.
She said patients can expect visits to the unit to take between one and 12 hours - depending on the type and complexity of chemotherapy required.
Blood tests and awaiting results before treatment also result in "unavoidable delay for some patients" but Ms Clark stressed: "We understand any additional waiting time can be a source of additional strain on patients."
She continued: "Patients receive their treatment in time order. However, some complex treatments require the most senior nurses to administer while shorter treatments can be given by other nurses who can slot patients in to keep the flow of patients moving in the unit which, in turn, reduces delays."
She also refuted claims the unit is understaffed, saying: "We currently have only one vacant post and are recruiting. Annual leave is planned in advance, so cover is arranged to ensure the unit is staffed appropriately at all times. In cases of sickness absence, we backfill by offering existing staff extra shifts via our own staff bank."
Macmillan Cancer Support said ahead of the 2015 general election it will be urging all political parties to commit to ensuring cancer patients are treated with the highest levels of dignity and respect and that hospital staff are supported to achieve that.
Arwenna Davis, the charity's patient experience manager, added: “Currently the NHS still prioritises clinical outcomes over compassionate care, yet there is also growing evidence that being treated with respect, dignity and being involved in treatment is intrinsically linked to good clinical outcomes.
"We know from cancer patients that having treatment can be an anxious and stressful experience, so responding to their urgent needs during this time is very important."