England has taken its first steps to providing an advanced form of radiotherapy to patients, Health Minister Ann Keen announced today.
Hospitals are being invited to bid to provide Proton Beam Therapy, which can cure tumours without damaging vital organs. For patients, especially children, with highly specific types of cancer that occur in the retina, base of the skull and near the spine, Proton Beam Therapy can be better than conventional radiotherapy as it precisely targets the tumour, giving better dose distribution and not harming vital organs.
The National Specialised Commissioning Team (NSCT) has been asked by the Department of Health to hold a competition to identify possible providers of proton beam services in England. Patients who need this treatment currently have to go aboard to receive it.
Health Minister Ann Keen said:
“We want to make sure that cancer services in the England are world class and that NHS patients receive the best quality treatment.
“I have asked the National Specialised Commissioning Team to identify possible providers as I want this important technology to be available to NHS patients in England as soon as possible.
“This is significant news for patients with rare cancers, especially children, as having Proton Beam Therapy will mean that they will receive a better quality of treatment and will not suffer from potential side effects such hearing loss and reduced IQ.
“It is also good news for scientists and academics who will ensure that the UK, with its current expertise, remains at the forefront of new technologies and science.”
Chairman of the National Commissioning Group for Proton Therapy Dr Adrian Crellin said:
“I am delighted that work has now started to offer Proton Therapy services in the UK.
“Proton Beam Therapy is much safer way of treating specific types of cancer that occur in the retina, skull and spine without damaging vital organs.
“However it is important to remember that Proton Therapy is necessary for less than 1% of patients and modern conventional radiotherapy continues to be the most effective and best treatment for the majority.”
Ros Barnes, who has campaigned for Proton Therapy service in the UK since taking her son Alex to be treated in the United States, said:
“I am absolutely thrilled with today’s announcement from the Department of Health as this is a monumental step forward in specialist cancer care for children and adults with rare cancers.
“This investment in new radiotherapy technology will give doctors a powerful new weapon to help fight rare cancers and give some patients a fighting chance.
“I am a great believer in Proton Therapy as I have witnessed, firsthand, how it is has preserved the intellect and physical well being of my little boy.
“I am grateful that the government listened when I told them how hard it was for Alex and I to get on that plane, and leave my family and my home without the support of all of the health professionals that we know and trust.
“I know now that in the future, little children in England will get the best cancer care on the planet because the new proton centre will be run by NHS staff and that my little boy has, in a small way contributed to it.”
Head of Cancer Research UK's information nurses, Martin Ledwick, said:
"It is good to see the Department of Health encouraging the development of different forms of radiotherapy. Although, at the moment, the number of people this treatment is likely to help is quite small, it is possible that as we learn more about it, Proton Therapy may have the potential to have a bigger impact on cancer treatment."
The Department of Health will work with the NSCT to select providers that will be able to treat around 1,500 patients in England each year with a wider range of tumours. The Department hopes the services will be available within three-five years.