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Wednesday, 26 November 2014

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Specialist centre wanted to take over radiotherapy services

A specialist cancer centre will be sought to take over the permanent running of radiotherapy services in north Cumbria following problems.

In recent months a number of risks and concerns have been highlighted following a review of cancer services at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle and West Cumberland Hospital, Whitehaven.

Recruitment difficulties are among the main issues, as is the need to upgrade expensive radiotherapy equipment.

The North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust recently brought in experts from Newcastle’s specialist cancer centre to help.

They are providing interim support, including a weekend service for patients.

However, NHS England is looking at how to secure sustainable specialised cancer services in Carlisle and Whitehaven for the long term.

It follows the Keogh Review, which called for major improvements.

Together with NHS Cumbria’s Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), they have determined that the local service should be taken over by a specialist cancer centre permanently.

They have set out a three-phase plan which will ensure the service meets national standards and guidelines.

Initially interim support will be provided by Newcastle. Some head and neck patients are now going across to the North East for treatment.

The second phase will see formal steps being made to secure a specialist provider to run the service for the next two years. This will include recruiting new staff.

In the longer term, a provider will be sought to take over the radiotherapy service on a permanent basis.

It will work in a similar way to the current breast screening service, with experts from Newcastle running it but in Carlisle and Whitehaven.

This will include the replacement of current Linear Accelerators in new bunkers to bring the equipment up to standard. It will mean that the North Cumbria trust no longer holds the contract for radiotherapy.

In a letter to the current trust, Mike Prentice, NHS England’s regional medical director, said: “As a standalone provider of radiotherapy services the organisation faces significant challenge, which has been highlighted through both external reviews and by the trust itself.

“In saying this I would wish to note the expertise and hard work of your staff is continuing to deliver services in what have been difficult circumstances. The pressing problems are medical staffing and the need to replace expensive Linear Accelerators in order that patients can continue to receive therapy and access newer treatments.

“The model ourselves and NHS Cumbria would like to develop is based on a strong relationship with a large cancer centre that combines some continued local provision, eg. medical oncology, with externally provided clinical oncology/ radiotherapy.”

Details will now be worked out by current bosses, NHS England, the CCG, and the Cancer Network.

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