NEW concerns over Huddersfield's pioneering breast cancer unit were raised today.
Campaigners who help fund the unit at Huddersfield Royal Infirmary are worried the rush to achieve foundation hospital status may be eroding the hospital's dedicated breast cancer unit.
The Exley Breast Unit and the Greenlea Oncology Unit opened at the Infirmary in May 1996, at a cost £600,000 - half of which was paid by public donation in a campaign backed by The Examiner.
The six-bed breast cancer ward was set within the Greenlea Oncology Unit, which was opened by Sir Kenneth Calman, the country's chief medical officer at the time.
Sir Kenneth said the unit was a perfect example of what he and the Government believed was the way forward.
But over the past few years, a bed shortage has led to the breast cancer ward accepting patients with other illnesses and breast cancer patients have been shunted on to other wards, and cared for by non-specialist staff.
Mr John Woodhead, chairman of Huddersfield Breast Cancer Appeal, said: "Our beautiful unit is no longer used exclusively for breast patients; indeed at times it has been exclusively otherwise. We are fighting a seemingly losing battle to return it to its previous status."
The Greenlea Oncology Unit is one of the best in the North of England, and would not have been set up had it not been for the fundraising appeal.
"But it seems to us that the emphasis on breast cancer in its widest sense has been neglected," said Mr Woodhead. "This raises a very big debate.
"Is the NHS about looking after people carefully in dedicated units, as Sir Kenneth Calman said in 1996? Or is it about ticking boxes in a form to meet Government targets?"
The Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust, which runs the Infirmary, is one of the front runners in the bid to become a foundation hospital trust.
To qualify, all hospital trusts must be top performers and must be allocated three stars in the annual assessments.
This means meeting all Government targets for patient waiting times.
A statement from the Calderdale and Huddersfield NHS Trust said: "Local breast cancer services have been through change over the last few years, following the movement of one of our breast surgeons and the retirement of our local breast radiologist.
"Despite this the service is once again on the up following the appointment of a new breast surgeon.
"The trust is addressing many of the issues raised by the ABC Breast Cancer Support Group and is continually striving to achieve the vision of the Huddersfield Breast Cancer Appeal for local breast care services, whilst continuing to meet the needs of all of our medical and surgical patients."