Damning review of Mount Vernon Cancer Centre means services will be moved

'The safety of patients at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre cannot be guaranteed in the near future an

'The safety of patients at the Mount Vernon Cancer Centre cannot be guaranteed in the near future and there is a need for urgent action.' Picture: Pexels. - Credit: Archant

Mount Vernon Cancer Centre – the main radiotherapy centre for our area – will be moved to another site following a review which found the dilapidated estate is not fit for purpose and staff shortages are putting patients at risk.

The centre in Northwood, just south of Rickmansworth and the Herts border, has a catchment population of almost two million people and serves patients across Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire.

The urgent review of the centre, run by the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, was commissioned by NHS England in May due to increasing concern regarding the sustainability of a safe service at the site.

The subsequent report is damning. "Much of the existing estate is dilapidated and not fit for purpose, particularly ward buildings for acutely unwell and end of life patients," it reads.

"Recruitment and retention of expert staff is an increasing problem and is becoming critical.

"Poor IT and electronic patient record systems pose a clinical risk.

"Services continue to be provided within very poor quality accommodation, with much equipment reaching the end of its life without a replacement plan."

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The building is so "old and decrepit" that some services have had to be moved to a different part of the site due to leaking roofs.

Staff shortages and poor environment mean elements of basic healthcare are not possible, including daily consultant ward rounds, speedy access to simple tests and results, and a consultant review of patients admitted within the previous 14 hours.

Inspectors also found failure to complete Do Not Attempt Resusitation documents for appropriate patients - a basic human right.

There is also "declining expertise for inpatient care", with the need to transfer acutely unwell patients elsewhere. The report says: "Acute support services have been progressively depleted on the site over many years, such that there is current and increasing concern regarding patient safety."

Staff losses are impacting on the service, with clinical risks including a backlog of patient letters and notes as a result of inadequate administrative support.

Inspectors acknowledge that staff "continue to provide the best quality care they can within the signfiicant limitations of the current physical environment and clinical systems," but says the situation has "inevitably led to low morale, frustration, loss of staff and difficulty in maintaining performance targets".

Consultation with medical directors and consultants has resulted in a consensus that maintaining the safety of patients cannot be guaranteed in the near future and there is a need for urgent action.

Leadership will be transferred from the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust to an existing specialist cancer service provider in London as a matter of urgency.

Additional staff will also be appointed and the maintenance backlog of exisiting facilities urgently addressed.

In the long-term, a new cancer centre will be built on an acute hospital site, with the possibility of retaining some outpatient radiotherapy and chemotherapy services on the exisiting MVCC site.

The report says the new centre will preferably be "central to the existing catchment area to maintain patient access".

But, while NHS England says significant capital investment should be made available, Mount Vernon is not one of the six hospitals Prime Minister Boris Johnson said last week would be rebuilt over the next five years with a £2.7bn injection of NHS capital funding.

Nick Carver, chief executive of the East and North Hertfordshire NHS Trust, said: "As a long-serving provider of specialist cancer services, we know patients, their carers and families deserve no less than the most modern oncology care, and comprehensive medical and surgical support services, including an intensive treatment unit. That's why we warmly welcome the recommendations contained in the review.

"Patient safety and confidence is paramount and remains the NHS trust's key priority in planning for the future.

"This review quite rightly recognises the commitment of our staff to their patients; and that they continue to provide the best quality care possible for patients. We will do our very best to support our staff as this transition progresses.

"In addition, the panel noted that feedback from patients has been consistently positive over a long period of time."