Local Blog: Clatterbridge Oncology Centre

Local Blog: Clatterbridge Oncology Centre
The Clatterbridge Oncology Centre is under threat. That is the view of the local members of parliament. What is the threat and what are we doing about it?

Sometime last year, the local members of parliament learned that the Merseyside Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) had initiated a study on cancer services in our area. Nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I applaud bodies that are proactive.

But local MPs were not involved and, as it were, found out by accident. No marks there.

The plan, as described to me, had an unbelievable degree of unreality about it. A new centre was to be built the other side of the Mersey costing £150 million.

That proposal has now been vetoed, but anybody who is part of Merseyside politics knows that some of these big blue-sky thinking type projects have a habit of returning.

So the review is now concerned with access to radiotherapy treatment. National guidelines stipulate that no patient should have to spend more than 45 minutes travelling to reach their treatment. I assume they mean by private transport. Given the state of public transport, and despite huge subsidies to the bus companies, a 45 minute time limit would make for a very limited catchment area. It is worth noting that over 90% of patients attending at Clatterbridge travel by private transport, taxi or ambulance.

So the local MP Ben Chapman, who has been leading the campaign, is asking for a detailed breakdown of the 45 minute catchment area. He wants to know how many people north of the river seeking treatment are outside a 45 minute journey to Clatterbridge.

The most advanced technology currently available in the UK to deliver radiotherapy comes in the form of the Linear Accelerator machine (LINAC). A radiotherapy base is to be built at Aintree hospital, and a second centre is apparently to be built merely five miles away at the new Royal Hospital in Liverpool.

Will these developments downgrade the position at Clatterbridge? That is what so concerns Wirral MPs. Will some of the LINAC machines at Clatterbridge be moved or mothballed? If that happened then it is quite clear that the centre of excellence at Clatterbridge hospital will be downgraded – no matter what the experts say now.

And what might that in the longer term mean for the provision of the very best cancer services in Merseyside and Cheshire?

I’ve been around long enough to have seen huge sums of public money, partly wasted, in rebuilding the Royal Hospital. It is now down for rebuilding yet again, and while the absurd grandiose schemes have been trimmed back, history seems to have a habit of repeating itself.

Under a then new Chief Executive, the Royal boasted it was going to become the cancer centre in our area. It now claims no such objective, but one cannot help wondering.

So, if the plans go ahead unamended, we will have three centres in the inner area of Merseyside providing advanced radiotherapy. But the possibility of building up Clatterbridge to become centre of excellence to counterbalance the wonderful centre at the Christie Hospital in Manchester will be lost.

Here my main worry comes into play. Advanced cancer treatments are amongst the most expensive offered by the National Health Service. In an age of public expenditure cuts, any Government will be looking for today’s centres of excellence to provide the new cutting edges to develop new cancer services. The restricted budget of future Health Secretaries will demand this approach.

And where will Merseyside stand in this new scramble for new funds? Will we have one centre of excellence that can become a country leader in providing cancer services? Or will we have a near broken-back service in Merseyside spread over three sites?

So the campaign that Ben Chapman is leading is not merely an old fashioned turf war dispute. It is about how our cancer services should develop in Merseyside and Cheshire and whether the political decisions involved should include elected political representatives, like MPs, or should such a decision be left to the PCTs, who have a statutory duty here in developing certain services, but who, through no fault of their own, are not elected.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: