Progress on new cancer treatment unit ‘nothing short of scandalous’

John Gooderham, who lives in Billingshurst, has been calling for radiotherapy services to be based in West Sussex
John Gooderham, who lives in Billingshurst, has been calling for radiotherapy services to be based in West Sussex

Inaction over creating a cancer treatment unit in West Sussex has been branded ‘nothing short of scandalous’.

Patients receiving radiotherapy have to travel to either Brighton, Portsmouth, Guildford, or Redhill with many one-way journeys exceeding the national guideline of 45 minutes.

This is causing some patients to drop out of cancer treatment, with NHS England recognising parts of West Sussex are ‘poorly served’ by the current provision of radiotherapy services.

However a business case is now being prepared to open a new unit at St Richard’s Hospital in Chichester.

John Gooderham, who lives in Billingshurst and has been calling for a satellite radiotherapy unit in West Sussex, explained how proposals have been talked about for a decade.

But he added: “The fact that nothing concrete has happened, and that proposals are still being talked about, is nothing short of scandalous and that’s not just my opinion of course.

“There can be no excuse for the continued failure of the NHS to make adequate provision for radiotherapy services in West Sussex.”

Radiotherapy treatments are delivered using high energy linear accelerators (linacs), with the majority of cancer treatment and care for Sussex residents provided by Brighton and Sussex Universities Hospitals NHS Trust (BSUH).

During a West Sussex Health and Adult Social Care Select Committee meeting last Friday (July 7), Fiona Mackison, a service specialist for NHS England South, explained how two linacs were originally planned for Worthing Hospital but due to estate issues Chichester was chosen as a more suitable location.

She explained that a ‘phased approach’ had seen them prioritise replacing existing radiotherapy equipment in Brighton and establishing two linacs at Eastbourne before focusing on West Sussex.

Oliver Phillips, service strategy director at BSUH, told the committee a business case had originally been submitted two years ago, but NHS England had asked the trust to reconsider certain elements, with particular concern about the potential to destabilise services in Portsmouth.

Pete Landstrom, executive director of delivery and strategy for both BSUH and Western Sussex Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, said the biggest challenge was to secure funding, estimated at around £15m, to build a radiotherapy unit.

He admitted progress has ‘not been fast enough’ but described how momentum had built over the last six months.

Councillors gave their support to a radiotherapy unit in West Sussex.

Bryan Turner (Con, Broadwater), chair of the committee, said they would write to NHS England calling for capital funding and requesting information on survival rates across the county and statistics on the number of patients dropping out of radiotherapy treatment.

Jamie Fitzjohn (Con, Chichester South) described being ‘bemused and dismayed’, with his greatest concern they were not monitoring how many patients were dropping out of the system.

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