NHS England is proposing to cut by a fifth the number of hyperbaric oxygen therapy chambers in the country from 10 to 8, and has launched a 30-day public consultation to review the provision of these services.
Divers and other interested parties have until 14 February to make their views known.
The NHS acknowledges that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the only treatment available for decompression illness (DCI), and that affected divers require urgent access to chambers.
However, the 10 English facilities are also used to treat a range of other serious injuries including gas gangrene, carbon monoxide poisoning and burns; and, following a review that began in April 2016, NHS England says that “there is not conclusive evidence of the efficacy of these applications”.
For this reason, it says it believes that the service is currently over-provided, at an unnecessary cost to tax-payers.
For divers with DCI, however, a reduction in the number of available chambers would potentially result in longer evacuation times from an incident site, and fewer alternatives should a nearby chamber already be in use. Any delay in treating DCI can have a negative effect on the outcome.
Where this is the case, further treatment sessions could be required, with an increased chance of the diver being unable to make a full recovery – and in the process increasing the level of NHS spending.
If chambers are closed down, this also puts them beyond the use of those private operators and diving insurance providers paid for by some divers as an alternative to the free national service.
The simple questionnaire asks for views on “any equality or health inequality impacts which you think we should consider in relation to this change, and what more might be done to avoid, reduce or compensate for the impacts we have identified and any others?”
Concerned divers should bear in mind the limited time-frame for responses, and are invited to make their views known here.
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