Patients have "serious concerns" about the level of care for chemotherapy services in urgent or emergency situations according to a recent Healthwatch report.

Healthwatch organisations from Redbridge, Havering and Barking and Dagenham published a report to the Outer North East London Joint Health Scrutiny Committee in response to a request to gather the views of patients using chemotherapy services at Barking and Dagenham, Havering and Redbridge University Trust.

Current and recent patients using chemotherapy services with the trust were invited to share their views at a focus group on Wednesday, March 27, at Havering Town Hall.

The service was changed in October last year without formal consultation, which is not required, and now provides chemotherapy only from Queens Hospital in Romford.

Results found that patients had serious concerns about the level of care received if a chemotherapy patient had to attend urgent or emergency care.

One member of the focus group said: "I’m scared of A&E at Queens as they’re not specialised in cancer care.

"I went to A&E after my third (chemotherapy) treatment as my temperature had soared.

"I had to explain the issue to four doctors. They had no knowledge of the risk to oncology patients."

One patient added: "The staff at A&E didn’t know how to take blood from the PICC line.

"They were about to take it from my toe, but my wife had to stop them and pointed out that a chemotherapy patient can't have blood taken from their toe."

Additional concerns were raised about the changes in appointments systems that were leading to longer wait times and confusion.

There were also concerns about a lack of privacy and cramped facilities with one member of the focus reporting: "‘We are packed in like sardines."

Another priority concern raised from the focus group was the expense of parking for long-term hospital patients.

Most patients and family members raised concerns about the parking facilities at Queen’s Hospital and said that car parking costs should be free for all patients receiving long-term treatments, not just for chemotherapy patients.

Chemotherapy patients are currently offered free parking by the hospital, but other long-term patients are exempt.

However, the report also highlighted a number of positive responses from patients and their families including comments that stated patients felt staff were: "really welcoming, nurses were great, amazing, caring, wonderful volunteers, professional and brilliant".

Most patients also reported that there was a calm atmosphere and some said they felt safe and supported.

While some added that they felt the day unit was "outstanding", others felt there was a lack of privacy in the limited treatment space and disliked the lack of natural light in the area.

Chief executive at Healthwatch Redbridge Cathy Turland said: "Although patients and carers felt the staff were amazing, they were equally concerned that there was clearly a failure to provide safe and supportive treatments."

The focus group consisted of 18 people: 12 patients who had received chemotherapy treatment at Queens Hospital, one patient who had received treatment at King George Hospital, two patients who had received treatment at both sites and five carers or family members.

Executive director at Healthwatch Havering Ian Buckmaster said: "We were concerned to learn about the problems experienced by these patients when they have to seek treatment for unrelated conditions in the Emergency Department (A&E).

"We are pressing the authorities at Queen's Hospital to ensure that improvements are made to their systems to ensure that patients undergoing treatment for cancer are promptly identified and not put at additional risk."

Healthwatch officer at Healthwatch Barking and Dagenham Richard Vann said: "Although patients told us of the positive experiences they had with the service, it was concerning to learn about the issues and problems they were faced with when they needed to seek treatment at the A&E department.

"There should be systems in place for patients being treated for cancer that are attending emergency and urgent care services, to make sure they are identified quickly and not left in circumstances that could further put their health at risk."

Interim Chief Executive Officer, Barking, Havering and Redbridge NHS Trust Chris Bown said: “We always welcome feedback from patients. It helps us keep improving our care.

“However, this small study, while useful, needs to be kept in context.

“We have one of the most advanced and high performing oncology departments in the south east. The expertise and experience of our staff is second to none.

“Our last Care Quality Commission inspection saw our urgent and emergency services improve in two domains.

“There is no evidence to suggest that these are anything other than isolated examples, but we have committed to looking into every point raised.

“For example, we are pleased that some patients have highlighted ways we can improve care for cancer patients who come to our emergency departments.”