Mount Vernon Cancer Centre: Pandemic delays transfer plans which could see treatment closer to home
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The future of Mount Vernon Cancer Centre – the main radiotherapy centre for our area – remains uncertain, with plans to transfer management delayed due to the pandemic.
The cancer centre site, in Northwood, Middlesex, is owned by Hillingdon NHS Trust but run by the East and North Herts NHS Trust. An urgent review of the centre – commissioned by NHS England in May last year due to increasing concern regarding the sustainability of a safe service – found “much of the existing estate is dilapidated and not fit for purpose”, and staff shortages are putting patients at risk.
A decision was made to transfer management to an existing specialist cancer service provider in London as a matter of urgency, with University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust selected at the beginning of 2020.
Jessamy Kinghorn, head of partnerships and engagement at NHS England and NHS Improvement, emphasised: “This is for the management of the service, not the location. This does not mean it’s moving into central London. That’s certainly not the intention and it won’t be one of the options that is looked at.”
In the long-term, a new cancer centre will be built on an acute hospital site, but the review said it will preferably be “central to the existing catchment area to maintain patient access”. The catchment area includes Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northwest London and parts of the Thames Valley, with the majority of patients from Herts.
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Ruth Derrett, locality director at NHS England, said: “To provide modern services, the centre needs to be co-located with critical care. If a patient is receiving complex treatment and their needs change, they [currently] have to be transferred.”
Some outpatient services may remain on the existing MVCC site.
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A period of due diligence – a comprehensive appraisal of the centre to establish its assets and liabilities – was entered just as the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in the UK, forcing a pause in the programme until August.
UCLH’s trust board is expected to make a transfer decision in April next year, when due diligence is complete, and, if approved, management will transfer in April 2022.
Ruth said: “When we agreed the transfer, there were some conditions. A key one is completion of due diligence. There are a number of risks on that site. UCLH needs to be assured about the management of these risks. Once they have completed that process and are assured we have a strong long-term plan for the future provision, which could then enable a change in the location of services, that decision will be approved by the UCLH board.”
Councillor John Riley, chairman of external services select committee at Hillingdon Council, has voiced some concern, saying: “Hillingdon is unlikely to be able to deliver a clean bill of health for Mount Vernon. Is there any sense of jeopardy in terms of UCLH taking over? They are never going to get to a position where they can be assured that what they are taking over doesn’t have a massive cost implication for them.” But Ruth insisted: “UCLH will require assurance, which is why the due diligence is a lengthy process.”
The East and North Herts NHS Trust’s September board papers also say “there is a risk the trust is not able to transfer the MVCC to a new tertiary cancer provider”, categorising the risk as extreme.
Options for future services being considered include providing chemotherapy closer to home and even in the workplace. Ruth said: “We’re looking at taking services closer to the patients”, but said patients having to travel further for treatment could not be ruled out, adding “It’s our ambition that they don’t.”
Cllr Riley said it “makes sense to have centres dotted around” the catchment area, but Ruth said they “haven’t really got to developing the options in sufficient detail” to comment.
A spokesman for the East and North Herts NHS Trust said: “We continue to work closely with UCLH and NHS England on the planned transfer of management. The transfer is subject to satisfactory completion of a period of due diligence and UCLH board approval, which is normal practice for this type of management change.
“Work has now started with patients and staff to develop options for the future organisation of the services themselves. The options will then be subject to public engagement and local authority scrutiny.
“All potential organisational risks are captured for our trust board to consider, as a matter of routine.”