The future of cancer services at UCLH 

04/02/2016 00:00 
Today marks World Cancer Day — a global initiative to improve understanding of cancer and to curb the number of preventable deaths.

UCLH is playing its part to improve cancer care in several different ways.
 We have become the regional specialist centre for the treatment of five types of cancer: blood; brain; head and neck; oesophago-gastric (gullet and stomach); prostate and bladder, for patients from north and east London and west Essex. This approach means that patients have some of their cancer treatment at their local hospital but may be treated at UCLH for specialist treatment, for example, surgery or specialist radiotherapy. We will also become one of only two UK centres providing two proton beam therapy.

 “By concentrating these services across a network of specialist centres, the evidence is that we will be able to save more lives and achieve wider benefits in care than would be possible if these services were provided at a larger number of hospitals,” comments Prof Geoff Bellingan, UCLH Medical Director of Surgery and Cancer.

We have also been awarded vanguard status and as the UCLH cancer collaboration we are working across North Central London and North East London with our sector partners to improve care. Our plans include investing in new approaches to enable earlier diagnosis, tracking the impact of the changes, and providing chemotherapy closer to home.

What’s more, with a brand new facility for the treatment of cancer and short stay surgery, being developed next door to the University College Hospital Macmillan Cancer Centre and the UCL Cancer Institute, a hub of health and academic expertise is being created.  

The new facility will house one of only two NHS high energy proton beam therapy (PBT) centres in the country. PBT was in the headlines last week when research published in the medical journal The Lancet Oncology showed that it is effective for certain types of childhood cancer and is associated with fewer side effects than conventional radiotherapy in children with a specific type of brain tumour.

The PBT service, which is scheduled to open in 2019, will mean that children like Annabelle, will no longer have to travel abroad for this treatment.

In 2012 Annabelle was diagnosed with a type of brain tumour called a pilocytic astrocytoma, most of which was removed by surgery. But in December 2014 the tumour had grown, requiring further surgery.  As some of the tumour was in the brain stem, PBT was agreed on as the best treatment to minimise the potential long-term side effects. 

But Annabelle had to go the US to get the treatment, and she and her family travelled to Oklahoma as part of the NHS overseas programme.

“Annabelle didn’t really have any side effects from the treatment,” explains her dad, Stephen. She lost a bit of hair and was a bit more tired than normal.” But despite the great support the family had in Oklahoma, Stephen says that getting there was “a bit fraught” and thinks that having PBT available in London will be enormously helpful.

“When PBT is in London there will be no long flights, no jet lag and friends and family will be nearby,” he suggests.

“This is a fantastic step forward for the treatment of cancer patients in the UK, and will make a real difference for patients and their families,” agrees Prof Bellingan.

Care and treatment for blood disorders will also be provided from the new facility. Made up of four dedicated wards with 127 single rooms and a ten bedded critical care unit, it will be the largest centre in Europe.

Prof Bellingan is optimistic that the combination of new services, world class buildings, and close working partnerships will ensure that patients receive optimal care. “[It] will mean faster, smoother pathways for patients with better outcomes and better survival for people with cancer,” he says.


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