'Inexcusable' that mothballed cancer treatment centre in Bedlington will stay shut, MP says

The government has again said it has no plans to bring a mothballed cancer treatment centre in Bedlington back into use after questions from a local MP.
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Ian Lavery, the Labour MP for Wansbeck, wrote to the Health Secretary in October 2023 asking why the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East was still not in use, after it stopped treating patients when operator Rutherford Health went bust in 2022.

The £32m centre first opened in 2019 and provided recently-developed proton beam therapy (PBT) among other cancer treatments and diagnostics, including to patients that had been referred by the NHS.

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The MP received a response from Minister for Health and Secondary Care Andrew Stephenson, which said: “To operate as NHS cancer centres, the Rutherford sites need to meet NHS specifications, and we are advised by NHS England that they do not.

The now closed Rutherford Cancer Centre North East, in Bedlington. (Photo by Jill Tate)The now closed Rutherford Cancer Centre North East, in Bedlington. (Photo by Jill Tate)
The now closed Rutherford Cancer Centre North East, in Bedlington. (Photo by Jill Tate)

“NHS England therefore has no plans to acquire these sites.”

Mr Lavery branded the government’s response as “not good enough” and called for action to address the “disgracefully long” waiting times for cancer treatment in the North East.

He said: “It is inexcusable for any avenue that could be used to shorten the list in the North East to be ignored. People’s lives are at risk.

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“We need to know why the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Bormarsund near Bedlington is now deemed to be unsuitable and why it has not been acquired by the NHS, and the resources made available to enable it to meet NHS standards.

“It is outrageous that the people of Northumberland, who are so desperate for cancer treatment, have had to pin their hopes on a private health care provider in the first place.

“Their vital medical needs have been dependent on the whims of private financiers, not the solid publicly funded NHS service we all deserve.

“We must continue to demand that the government funds an NHS acquisition of the Rutherford Cancer Centre in Bormarsund as an important step towards saving lives.”

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The former medical director of Rutherford Health, Professor Karol Sikora, has been campaigning for the centre to be brought back to use since 2023, and garnered 14,000 signatures on a petition calling for mothballed Rutherford centres to reopen.

He said: “The facility in Bedlington is world-class, one of the very best cancer centres I have ever seen.

“The NHS claims that it is not up to their specifications. If this is the case, how did it have contracts with local NHS trusts before its closure?

“They have issued falsehood after falsehood about the facility. It is unacceptable.

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“This state-of-the-art technology should be treating patients from Northumberland and beyond, not rotting away gathering dust.

“Getting it back open, helping thousands of patients a year, is surely an objective that we can all share.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “It is desperately unfortunate these false claims continue to be repeated. Suitable assets from the former Rutherford Centres have already been purchased and the majority of staff found employment within the NHS.

"The remaining equipment and sites either do not meet NHS minimum standards or reverted to the official receiver.

“There is excess capacity at existing NHS proton beam therapy sites and there has been a £2.3bn investment for 160 new community diagnostic centres, with 153 now open.”