Three elderly people with kidney failure died because of the trauma of
travelling hundreds of miles to have dialysis, a specialist has claimed.
Patients travel from north Essex to London for renal dialysis
Some patients from Essex are facing round trips of up to seven hours to have dialysis in London.
Dr Martin Raftery, of the Royal London Hospital, told BBC News Online that he gets two referrals a month from north Essex because Colchester Hospital lacks a renal dialysis unit.
Since Christmas he has seen three elderly patients from areas around Colchester and Clacton who have died.
Dr Raftery, who has 21 years of experience, believes they may have died prematurely because of the long journeys they had to take.
'Destroy quality of life'
"My concern is that the provision of dialysis in north Essex is insufficient and this has been a concern for 10 years," he said.
"There is no doubt the journeys destroy their quality of life."
John Powell, chairman of the Southend Hospital Association for Renal Patients, said that while south Essex had good facilities for dialysis "there is nothing in the north of Essex - which includes Clacton, Walton and Frinton".
"The travelling from north Essex puts a great strain on people," he said.
Tim Statham of the National Kidney Federation said there are cases of people across the country having to travel large distances to the nearest unit.
New facilities planned
"It is a crisis at this point as there are not sufficient dialysis facilities in this country," he said.
A spokesman for the Colchester and Tendring Primary Care Trusts said: "In the short-term, two dialysis beds will become operational later this month at Harwich Hospital and there will be scope to increase this number to four.
"In the longer-term, a 20-station dialysis unit will be included in a multi-million pound Primary Care Centre to be built in Colchester.
"This is scheduled to become operational in early 2005 - little more than 18 months away.
"The centre is being 'future-proofed' which means it will be able to meet demand for kidney dialysis in north east Essex for the foreseeable future."
Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the government would examine how transport services could be improved.
"I don't want to see people - especially elderly people - having to travel distances like that."
She said 350 new haemodialysis stations had been introduced in the last three years, and another 150 would be introduced during the next year.
There were also plans to expand home dialysis.