Multi-million-pound plans are being drawn up by NHS leaders to improve cancer services across Bedfordshire and beyond.
Although the £230m price tag for moving Mount Vernon Cancer Centre to Watford Hospital has yet to be agreed, health service leaders told a meeting that it offers the opportunity to reorganise services more widely.
Councillors were told that cancer survival rates in economically deprived areas of Bedford and Luton are causing huge concern and driving moves for change.
About 30 per cent of cancer patients in Bedford – about 120 people – are referred to Mount Vernon every year, with the majority of the others going to Cambridgeshire.
Bedford Borough Council’s health overview and scrutiny committee was told that in Luton only 69.3 per cent of cancer patients are alive one year after diagnosis. In Bedfordshire, including Bedford, that figure is at an average 72.7 per cent.
The five-year survival rate, measured across the Beds and Herts region, is flagged up as a very poor 72.9 per cent.
Dr James Ramsay, of the Bedfordshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said: “In Luton and some parts of Bedford we are much worse off than our peers or nationally.
“For some cancers, we are a national outlier.”
He said the poor outcomes are “driven” by issues including late presentation, and not using cancer screening services.
“We serve a very deprived local population and because of the deprivation we see poorer outcomes,” he told Monday’s meeting.
“We want to use these opportunities to enhance the care of the deprived population that we serve because we know that deprivation leads to poor acceptance of treatment because of accessibility issues and travel times.”
The meeting heard that some people could be turning down treatment because it is so far away.
And Jessamy Kinghorn, of NHS England, said some patients often faced a three and a half hour journey for a “five-minute blood test” because services don’t exist locally.
The meeting was told that cancers, cardiovascular disease and respiratory disease are the main causes of premature deaths and health inequality in Bedford, with smoking and poor diet being the main preventable causes.
If crucial approval is given to invest £230m, there will be a huge consultation exercise later this year. But it would still take until 2027 at the earliest to relocate from the 104-year-old Mount Vernon site.
The meeting also heard that new radiotherapy services could be provided at either the Lister Hospital at Stevenage, or at the Luton and Dunstable Hospital.
But the prospect of moving Mount Vernon services wholesale from Northwood, in Middlesex, to the L&D Hospital has been ruled out because it would be too far for London patients to travel to.
The committee agreed to look deeper into the issues, including those of local deprivation.
More information about the background to the review, why things need to change, what is happening, and how to get involved, can be found at mvccreview.nhs.uk
by David Tooley
Local Democracy Reporter