Senior doctors urged Matt Hancock increase cancer treatment capacity by sending NHS patients to private clinics.
The former head of cancer at the World Health Organization is one of six oncologists warning that normal health care creaks under the load of coronaviruses.
Rather, the resources needed for specialized treatment are diverted to the Covid-19 front line, which doctors say may compromise cancer treatment.
Sound the alarm on a new one NHS advice that warns of a “significant impact” on cancer treatments, they suggest that the youngest will be the hardest hit.
Professor Karol Sikora, the former head of the WHO cancer program and one of the signatories to the letter, told MailOnline that the independent sector stood “ready to help”.
Patients preparing to undertake proton beam therapy (PBT) are extremely vulnerable to the cancellation or postponement of their treatment, according to oncologists.
They point to the NHS memo, which provides reduced capacity for PBT as it often requires ventilators and anesthesiologists – both of which are in high demand in coronavirus services.
To prevent these patients from receiving “conventional suboptimal treatment,” the doctors urged the secretary of health to link up with the private sector to increase capacity.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock (at a press conference in Downing Street last week) has been pressured by doctors to protect cancer treatment that is strained as resources are diverted to it coronavirus epidemic
The Rutherford Cancer Center North East, in Bedlington, Northumberland, which offers proton beam therapy
Describing their concerns in a letter consulted by MailOnline, oncologists write: “ In our opinion, there is a real risk that patients who need proton beam therapy will be refused this treatment and receive conventional treatment under -optimal which was not theirs nor that of their clinician. first choice thus potentially increasing undesirable late toxicities and affecting their quality of life in the long term.
“In addition, parents of children with cancer requiring proton therapy will hope that the Covid-19 situation will not compromise their children’s long-term recovery and quality of life.”
Professor Karol Sikora, non-executive director of the Buckinghamshire NHS Trust, has offered the services of private clinics in Rutherford, of which he is the chief medical officer.
Highlighting the independent sector as a solution to tightening the capacity of the NHS, he told MailOnline: “The NHS is under enormous pressure and the independent sector is ready to help.
“There are currently capabilities to treat patients who need proton beam therapy and it is important for all cancer patients that the disruption is minimized.”
Proton beam therapy involves firing radiation directly at the tumor, which reduces the side effects sometimes felt by less precise radiation therapy, which can damage healthy tissue surrounding cancer cells.
However, most people are not offered the treatment because it is more expensive and is only available from one NHS Trust, the Christie Hospital in Manchester.
This already limited capacity risks being stretched even more because the equipment necessary to carry out such treatment is also required in the coronavirus services, namely the ventilators.
In their letter, the six doctors, who work both in the NHS and in private establishments, point to the directives of the NHS England which state: “ Under normal circumstances, the center of The Christie does not have sufficient capacity to meet all NHS PBT requests.
“This position was exacerbated by the impact of Covid-19. In addition, a significant proportion of pediatric patients must be anesthetized daily to receive PBT treatment. ”
Matt Hancock speaks by videoconference at the opening of the NHS Nightingale Hospital Birmingham
The guide, published on April 3, also predicts that the reduced capacity of PBT will directly increase the burden of conventional radiotherapy as it has to cope with more patients.
He states: “The requirements of the Covid-19 epidemic on the NHS mean that there is increased pressure on anesthesiologists and the ventilation equipment required to perform this element of PBT treatment.
“The reduction in PBT capacity will have a significant impact on conventional radiotherapy services as an alternative form of radiotherapy.
“This should be particularly marked in pediatric radiotherapy and in adolescents and young people.”
To expand PBT’s capacity, the six doctors urge the secretary of health to work with independent providers, namely the three Rutherford centers that specialize in this type of treatment.
They write: “If capacity is the expected problem, there is a solution at hand. The NHS and the independent sectors must work together during this crisis. “
They offer the services of Rutherford centers in Northumberland, Berkshire and South Wales, which could provide the treatment usually offered by the NHS.
“ Oncologists conclude: ‘We therefore request that an urgent decision be made to update the NHSE guidelines to reflect the fact that additional capacity is available immediately through the independent sector and should be used to meet needs clinics across the UK. ‘
Other oncologists to sign the letter are Professor Roger Taylor, Dr Shanmugasundaram Ramkumar, Dr Hans van der Voet, Mr Matt Clarke and Dr Andrew Gaya.
The Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to MailOnline’s request for comment.
What is proton beam therapy, what is it for, and how does it work?
Proton beam therapy is a type of radiation therapy that targets proton beams against cancer.
While conventional radiation therapy uses high-energy beams of radiation to destroy cancer cells, often damaging surrounding tissue, proton beam therapy targets radiation directly at the tumor.
Because it is very targeted, it means that it can avoid healthy tissue, especially the tissue and organs behind the tumor.
Radiation therapy can cause side effects such as nausea and can sometimes affect the functioning of certain organs, but proton beam therapy has a lower risk of side effects.
This means that it is effective in treating cancer that affects critical areas, such as brain cancer.
Ashya King, whose case sparked an international manhunt in 2014, underwent proton beam therapy.
Brett and Naghmeh King arrested after taking their five-year-old son for brain tumor treatment abroad after the NHS initially refused to offer proton beam therapy, which his parents believed less harmful than conventional radiotherapy.
They took him from Southampton Hospital and went to the Czech Republic for treatment at the proton therapy center.
Ashya was finally allowed to undergo treatment in a Prague hospital after a long legal battle fought by her parents. Finally, he was declared cancer-free in March 2016.