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Hospitals to bid for advanced radiotherapy provision

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Hospitals in England are being invited to bid to provide an advanced form of radiotherapy to cancer patients, health minister Ann Keen announced today.

For patients with highly specific types of cancer, such as those 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 and does not damage vital organs.

At present, this form of therapy is only available at one specialist centre in the UK, and only certain types of eye tumour can be treated. The facility, in Clatterbridge in the Wirral, treats between 100 and 130 patients a year with eye tumours.

However, the facilities are inadequate to treat deeper cancers, so the Department of Health has asked the National Specialised Commissioning Group (NSCG) to hold a competition to identify possible providers of proton beam services in England.

Health minister, Ann Keen, said she wants proton beam therapy 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 as hearing loss and reduced IQ,’ she said.

‘We want to make sure that cancer services in England are world class and that NHS patients receive the best quality treatment,’ she added.

The DH will work with the NSCG to select providers that will be able to treat around 1,500 patients in England each year with a wide range of tumours. It is hoped that the services will be available within three to five years.

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