Birmingham & Black Country

Birmingham dropped as proton therapy cancer location

A promise to develop a new cancer treatment in Birmingham appears to have been broken by the health secretary.

Manchester and London have been chosen as the locations for a £43m investment in proton therapy treatment centres following a lengthy selection process.

Proton therapy is a form of radiotherapy which targets cancer more precisely.

Andrew Lansley gave an assurance on BBC Radio WM last year that University Hospital Birmingham would be chosen.

Officially, the Department of Health said a decision on the location of the centres was imminent and there would be an announcement before Christmas.

'Strongest bids'

However, the national cancer director, Mike Richards, has revealed in an email that University College London (UCLH) Hospital and Christies in Manchester have been selected.

He said: "A total of eight hospitals expressed an interest in providing a proton beam therapy service.

"The bids were assessed formally by an expert panel against predefined criteria.

"The UCLH and Manchester bids were deemed to be the strongest."

The news is a bitter blow for University Hospital Birmingham which believed it would get a treatment centre after Mr Lansley was interviewed on BBC WM.

He said: "I have made it clear that we are going to support, over the next four years, with £43m, the roll out of proton beam therapy at a number of centres and indeed the University Hospital of Birmingham will be one of those centres.

"We are able, within the next four years, to ensure that patients are not having to go abroad in order to get access to this proton beam therapy but are able to do it in this country."

The NHS currently sends a select few patients - often children - abroad to the US, France or Switzerland for their treatment at a cost of about £100,000 per person.

Adults 'miss out'

Stuart Green, director of medical physics at the Birmingham hospital, said the solution of two large centres was wrong.

"Many of the adult patients who would benefit may not get referred unless the facilities are placed to take advantage of the well-established referral pathways, many of which focus on Birmingham," he said.

"So, if large centres are opened in Manchester and London, I am concerned that many adults who would benefit will not be referred, and that these two big centres will not get the patients they need to be financially viable.

"The idea of placing one of the first NHS centres at UCLH in London also makes much less sense now that plans for a private centre are moving along quite well in London."

A Department of Health spokesperson said the system being used for the privately-financed centre in London was still under development in the US.

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