A PLAN to build a state-of-the-art £44 million elective care centre at Colchester Hospital has been given the go-ahead.

The governing bodies of North East Essex and Ipswich and East Suffolk clinical commissioning groups approved the proposal, which was drawn up by East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, at a meeting yesterday.

The new centre will be used by patients of both Colchester and Ipswich hospitals who need planned orthopaedic surgeries such as hip and knee replacements.

The centre will free up space at Ipswich Hospital, with 24 beds and two operating theatres set to be “released” once the new centre opens its doors.

In laying out its case for the centre, the hospital trust said the centre would help to slash “unacceptable” current waiting time levels, attract top quality staff and keep such services from being moved elsewhere in the country.

Nick Hulme, the trust’s chief executive, praised members of both commissioning groups for their “courage” in unanimously supporting the proposal.

A petition against the moving of surgeries from Ipswich to Colchester had attracted 9,000 signatures.

Mr Hulme said: “I’ve heard the concerns of the public, of our staff and our patients – but we also know there will be times where there will have to be a trade-off.

“What we are presenting is effectively a trade-off, for some patients to travel slightly further for an essential part of their treatment against a longer wait.

“I believe it is a trade-off worth making.”

He added: “We work in a world of constraints, we have financial constraints, we have staff constraints, we have space constraints and we have Covid constraints, with all of those we will do our best, as we are committed to every day, to give best possible care to the people we serve.

The centre will have at least 48 inpatient beds and up to six specialist operating theatres.

Patients will stay at the centre while undergoing surgery, while other care such as X-rays, pre-assessments and physiotherapy will be provided at either Colchester or Ipswich hospital, depending on which is closest to home.

Emergency orthopaedic surgery will continue at the patient’s nearest hospital. The centre will open by 2025.

Speaking at the meeting, an orthopaedic patient labelled a petition against the moving of some surgeries from Ipswich to Colchester “emotive and misleading”.

Sue Piggott underwent a hip replacement at a specialist orthopaedic centre in Southampton after choosing not to wait for an operation at Ipswich Hospital.

“The headline for this petition was that Ipswich Hospital would be degraded,” she said.

“It was emotive and misleading and there should be no credence given to this petition.

“Can this decision be made with the many patients, like myself, in mind, whose quality of life becomes grim when living with a lack of mobility and in extreme pain that affects every element of your life, and exasperated by the long waits for treatment that are involved.

“For those not suffering it is a hard thing to imagine. I waited eight weeks from my referral to my operation and the standards were superb.

“Two days after my operation I was discharged and travelling back to Suffolk. I am six months on from this highly successful treatment.

"The distance between Ipswich and Colchester is highly manageable.”

Prominent objections against the plan included fears over the distance patients would need to travel and fears over the reliability of public transport.