A special relationship - US Airforce medics to help at busy Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital after deal with RAF Lakenheath
PUBLISHED: 17:23 28 January 2017 | UPDATED: 23:37 28 January 2017
American airforce doctors are being drafted in to the region’s biggest hospital as part of a new agreement that will boost the medical workforce.
Senior doctors from the US Airforce’s 48th Fighter Wing at RAF Lakenheath, near Brandon, will work at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N) during their posting at the air base.
The news was discussed at today’s board of directors meeting at the N&N, on the same day as Prime Minister Theresa May met American president Donald Trump for the first time.
Mark Davies, chief executive of the N&N, hailed the agreement as “an exciting development”.
The N&N is this year treating a record number of patients.
The scheme stemmed from a visit to RAF Lakenheath by Mr Davies and Peter Chapman, the N&N’s medical director.
As a result of the agreement one senior airforce surgeon - graded at the equivalent of consultant level - has started working with the N&N’s general surgery department one day per week.
Another doctor is also expected to follow shortly.
The doctors will have an honorary contract with the N&N, meaning the airforce continues to pay their wages while the N&N offers them more training and can benefit from their work.
Mr Davies said: “We get really good doctors and they get training they need to keep their hand in.
Mr Chapman added: “The hospital at RAF Lakenheath is relatively quiet as the 14,000 personnel who live there tend to be fit and healthy.
“They valued very much the chance to place surgeons with us.”
The doctors are posted at RAF Lakenheath for two years, but could be redeployed elsewhere whenever.
The 48th Fighter Wing is the only F-15 wing based in Europe.
Its mission is “to provide responsive combat airpower, support and services to meet our nation’s and allies’ international objectives”.
The unit has flown many missions in the last decade, including several operations in Libya in 2011.
RAF Lakenheath is the largest U.S. Air Force-operated base in England.
The airforce runs a similar scheme with doctors at West Suffolk Hospital and Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge.
End of financial special measures in sight?
Hospital chiefs are hoping that regulators will soon remove the ‘financial special measures’ that were imposed on them last summer.
Directors of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust were told today that trust chiefs will meet NHS Improvement in the next fortnight to discuss the situation.
The N&N trust was placed in financial special measures - meaning the regulator takes more control of the trust’s cash - last July after failing to agree and meet financial commitments.
It temporarily halted the trust’s plans to build a new day case facility.
But six months on the trust is on course to deliver its financial plan and looks set to achieve its £24.6m savings target.
Trust chief executive Mark Davies said: “It would be an enormous boost to be taken out of financial special measures.
“We want to be taken out.
“We need to hit our financial plan for this year and have a good financial plan for next year.”
Chiefs desperate to increase N&N capacity as targets remain missed
Doubt has been placed on the prospect of moving some services away from the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital (N&N).
Under plans to improve patient waiting times at the N&N, health chiefs have been exploring whether some treatments can be moved to the James Paget and Queen Elizabeth hospitals.
But Mark Davies, the N&N’s chief executive, today said: “When we look at potential extra capacity in the James Paget and Queen Elizabeth hospitals at the moment there is no evidence of additional capacity which we can tap into.”
“It is recognised by NHS Improvement and NHS England that we need to increase the capacity here.”
The N&N trust has consistently missed key cancer, referral-to-treatment, and A&E targets in the last two years.
Chief operating officer Richard Parker said: “Our waiting lists are coming down and we are treating more of the urgent patients.”
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