A NEW £30 million elective care centre could be built for the north Essex and east Suffolk... but patients may have to travel further for operations.

As part of a record £69.3 million investment programme at Colchester and Ipswich hospitals, the East Suffolk and North Essex Foundation Trust is set to consult on plans to create the specialist orthopaedic surgery centre in a bid to cut waiting times across the area.

The centre, which will cost in the region of £30 million, will be built at either Colchester or Ipswich hospital and will take all orthopaedic operation patients from both.

There will be at least 54 beds, the existing number in both hospitals.

Approximately 1,500 orthopaedic operations take place at both hospitals each year and depending on where the new centre is sited, it means hundreds of patients will have to travel further to undergo surgery.

Nick Hulme, chief executive of the East Suffolk and North Foundation Trust, said: “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a significant investment in the health and wellbeing of people in our area.

“In the spring of 2018, our organisation was awarded £69.3 million in support of the merger of Colchester and Ipswich hospital trusts to fund infrastructure improvements.

“In our plans for merger we committed wherever we anticipated making significant changes to the way we deliver services, we would work with our patients and the public and, if necessary conduct formal public consultation.

“We have spent this year developing our five year strategy and plan to use this money to provide significant benefits to our patients, their families and carers.

“Our strategy outlines developments in both urgent and emergency care and also the reconfiguration of elective clinical services, which is where we expect to spend the bulk of the £69.3 million.”

A 12-week public consultation asking residents for their views on the proposals, is set to open early next year.

No decision on where to build the new centre has yet been made and a number of options are on the table.

The trust’s plans will have to go through the scrutiny committees of both Colchester and Ipswich councils.

Mr Hulme said: “At the public consultation we will show a number of different options to the public.

“When I have spoken about the merger in the past we have mentioned clinical service changes but we will have to demonstrate it will be better for patients.

“We have worked this model up with the clinicians and most agree this is the way forward.

“We are cancelling too many operations and this also frees up a ward in one of the hospitals for other services. It is a much better pathway for patients.”

Colchester and Ipswich hospitals are roughly 20 miles apart and patients from Tendring already have to travel up to 20 miles to get to Colchester.

After their operation, follow up treatment and care would be done at patients’ closest healthcare centre.

Mr Hulme said: “Of course, no-one wants to travel 20 miles for their operation. Change is difficult and we will have to look at the travel implications for patients and staff.”

The trust said a number of criteria will be used to assess the options in the consultation before a decision is made.

These include the road and utility network at each side and the existing infrastructure at both hospitals.

The trust insists clinical outcomes for patients will be the most important.

Paul Fenton, director of estates and facilities at the trust, said: “This is the largest single investment in Colchester and Ipswich hospitals in history and it is a really exciting opportunity for the trust and it will significantly benefit patients.”

Further down the line, the new centre could also be used for other medical purposes, however, discussions on this would take place further down the line.