Interview | CHRIS LAND

In Conversation With..

Issue 43

Tell us about the inception of the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East?

We have been working towards bringing high energy proton beam therapy to the North East since 2015, when Proton Partners International (the company which runs the Rutherford Cancer Centres) decided to open a world-leading cancer centre in the area which would provide high energy proton therapy to those who need it.

There are more than 90,000 cancer patients in the UK every year who are treated with radical radiotherapy. We – and our European medical counterparts – believe that around 10% of these patients could be better treated with proton therapy. This treatment isn’t new – it has been used in the USA and mainland Europe for over 30 years, however it only became available in the UK for the first time this year when our sister centre, the Rutherford Cancer Centre South Wales, began treating patients in April. We wanted to ensure that patients in the North East had access to this treatment locally, and have been working hard to make it happen.

What services do you provide?

We have been providing radiotherapy, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and imaging services since our centre opened at the end of Summer 2018. This Spring, our proton therapy suite will be complete and we will be able to start treating patients on-site. However, Proton Partners International runs all of the Rutherford Cancer Centres via a centralised network which means that patients can move seamlessly from one of our centres to the other – ideal if a patient has to travel or relocates during the treatment process. Because of this, a patient at our North East centre can have consultations for proton therapy and then be treated at the South Wales centre ahead of our own unit opening. The process is very straightforward and designed to minimise disruption wherever possible.

What is your proudest achievement?

In under two years the centre, which was a complex build, was built to an incredibly high standard, we recruited and trained all the clinical and admin teams, recruited leading oncologists to work with us, gained CQC (health and social care regulator in England) approval without any conditions and finally treated our first patient in August this year. A great team effort topped off by receiving wonderful patient feedback.

Tell us about your team?

The team is a mixture of clinical and admin. The clinical roles consist of Therapy & Diagnostic Radiographers, Senior Dosimetrists, Medical Physicists, and Oncology trained nurses. With most independent healthcare providers, we do not directly employ our oncologists, they are granted practising privileges that mirror their NHS clinical practice. The admin teams are here to ensure the patient referral pathways are seamless, always making sure our patients have rapid access to our services and that advice, guidance and treatments are personalised at every step of their journey.

I’m immensely proud of the team, in particular around their development and knowledge of Proton Beam Therapy. I believe this part really sets them apart as experts in their respective fields as they are collectively giving patients of the UK a different, potentially more effective treatment.

What are the Centre’s core visions and values?

For us, patient wellbeing is at the heart of everything we do. Cancer diagnosis and treatment can be a hugely stressful and demanding time for patients and their families, so we aim to offer a calm, welcoming space which is centred around the patient’s needs and comfort.

What does 2019 hold for the Centre?

2019 is a big year for us – we will be opening our proton therapy suite and treating our first proton therapy patients, which is a first for the region. We are all really excited to bring this treatment to those who need it, and ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of medical innovation in the fight against cancer.

Where do you see the Rutherford Cancer Centre in five years time?

In five years time, Proton Partners International will have a network of Rutherford Cancer Centres up and down the country, meaning that 75% of the UK population will live within 90 minutes’ drive of a centre. This will mean that we can provide access to proton beam therapy treatment for those who need it, wherever they are in the UK. I see the Rutherford Cancer Centre North East as being a centre of excellence throughout Northumberland, continuing to innovate and adapt to technological and medical advances in cancer care over the coming years, all the while doing our best to make sure patients have as positive an experience as possible.

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