Government's 'depressing' response to petition to reopen mothballed cancer centre in Northumberland
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Professor Karol Sikora is the former medical director of Rutherford Health, the company that ran the centre until it went bust last year, and has been campaigning for its facilities to be brought back into use to cut NHS cancer treatment waiting times.
He started a petition calling for the £32m Rutherford Cancer Centre North East to be reopened, alongside two other disused Rutherford facilities owned by investment firm Equitix, which now has 14,000 signatures.
The centre provided recently-developed proton beam therapy (PBT) among other cancer treatments and diagnostics.
As the petition passed 10,000 signatures, the Department of Health and Social Care was required to issue a response, which said: “The government has no current intention of reopening the remaining three sites as they do not meet present NHS specifications.
“The Government is committed to speeding up the diagnosis of cancer and improving the treatment of it.
“As part of this work, the NHS is already utilising two of those former Rutherford Cancer sites that meet NHS specifications.
“NHS England has reviewed the remaining three sites at Newport, Reading, and Northumberland, and found that they did not meet NHS service specifications.
“We understand, however, that advanced discussions have taken place between a potential new operator and other key stakeholders with a view to these being reopened outside of the NHS.”
The response also said there is excess capacity at existing NHS PBT sites and that the department has already opened and staffed “a substantial number” of new cancer centres.
However, Professor Sikora’s view is that the response is “laced with inaccuracies” and “extremely concerning.”
He said: “Across the network, 20,000 cancer patients could access some of the very best diagnostic and treatment technology in the entire world. How can that not help delays?
“There is only excess capacity at existing proton beam NHS sites because it is so severely rationed, leaving us far behind international standards.
“We currently only have the capacity to treat less than 1% of radiotherapy using protons. Other European countries can do 10%.
“Protons also only made up a small proportion of what Rutherford offered. There is radiotherapy, chemotherapy, diagnostic capability, and more.”
He added that the NHS specifications mentioned in the statement are either already met by the centres or are unnecessary, and pointed out that the centres had contracts with local NHS trusts when they were operational.
He also disagreed with the interpretation that discussions to reopen the facilities outside the NHS were advancing, claiming they were actually “going nowhere.”
Professor Sikora continued: “In my professional opinion, there is no good reason why the sites cannot be utilised to treat thousands of NHS patients every year to help clear the lockdown-induced backlog.
“Either the Department of Health and the NHS are displaying breathtaking incompetence, or they are lying about the viability of using the Rutherford centres. Both are equally depressing.”
You can sign the petition at petition.parliament.uk/petitions/644753.