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Renowned cancer specialist offers to clear mounting NHS backlog

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The globally-respected oncologist wants to open his network of private centres to help up to 30,000 of the most seriously ill in Britain. His unprecedented not-for-profit deal would give access to life-saving therapies almost instantly. The offer has been put to NHS chiefs by Prof Sikora’s private provider Rutherford Health. But, despite acknowledging the deepening emergency, it has not yet been taken up.

Prof Sikora, 73, who founded the company in 2015, said: “We are in the midst of a cancer crisis. It’s unlike anything I’ve seen during almost half a century in oncology.

“Tens of thousands of people have missed their diagnosis with countless others experiencing very significant delays in treatment – I don’t need to give any lectures on the importance of prompt action.”

Discussions have been held with No 10, the Department of Health and NHS England since the offer was made on December 21.

But the Express understands they favour local arrangements with individual trusts, rather than a sweeping national deal. It means 70 days later – the time most patients should be starting cancer treatment after a referral – discussions are ongoing.

Cancer Programme – added: “Capacity needs to be urgently expanded. We are offering a quick win for the NHS in tackling the backlog and we are capable of achieving immediate results.

“Cancer patients need action, not words. At Rutherford, we are willing to help deliver that.”

The NHS says at least 85 per cent of patients should wait no more than 62 days to start treatment after an urgent GP referral. But this target has not been met for six years.

A deal with Rutherford would be the biggest public-private partnership in NHS history.

It would allow clinicians from Britain’s 223 overstretched trusts to refer patients to some of Europe’s most highly specified cancer centres.

Those currently at the mercy of lengthy waiting lists would be referred according to individual need for diagnostic and oncology services.

Rutherford says it is willing to open its £400million network of radiotherapy, chemotherapy, proton beam therapy suites, MRI, CT and ultrasound machines to the public at sites in Newport, South Wales,

Reading, Liverpool, Newcastle and Taunton, Somerset. It estimates it could treat at least 8,000 NHS patients a year over 36 months.

The firm already treats NHS patients in devolved Wales.

Earlier this month, Boris Johnson announced a new target to clear the mounting backlog – but it will take more than a year.

He said he ultimately wants the “vast majority of people” who suspect cancer to have confirmation within 28 days.

More than six million patients are languishing on waiting lists for nonurgent treatment in England after Covid decimated services and sent waiting times soaring.

Health Secretary Sajid Javid said he wants to deliver nine million more treatments, scans and operations by 2024 as part of NHS recovery plans.

In its formal written offer, Rutherford bosses said: “We believe we can offer a scaled-up, more efficient and cost-effective service to a far wider range of NHS trusts beyond such local agreements providing considerable additional capacity for a fixed period.This offer aligns with the spirit of the most recent guidance from NHS England which urges greater utilisation of the independent healthcare sector in addressing backlogs caused by the pandemic.”

There are some 367,000 new cancer cases in Britain each year, equal to 1,000 a day.

The number who should have been diagnosed quicker, or started treatment sooner, now stands at 63,873. More than one million more desperately need tests and treatment.

Rutherford CEO Sean Sullivan said: “Addressing the Covid backlog is the number one priority facing the British people. Rutherford is already playing an important role, but our Cancer Recovery Contract would enable thousands more patients to receive the diagnosis and treatment they require.

“This is a quick win for the NHS. “We have the staff, facilities and desire to immediately deliver solutions. Given the urgency of the situation, we hope our not-for-profit offer can be explored as quickly as feasibly possible.”

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TO prevent a devastating number of life years lost to cancer, we need urgent action. Capacity needs to be expanded and it needs to happen rapidly.

But building a cancer centre is not easy, it requires years of work – I know, I’ve been involved in the construction of many across the world.

That’s time cancer patients can’t afford to waste.

So, how can we solve it? Rutherford is offering our facilities to help clear the backlog caused by Covid over the next 36 months. That would be equal to an additional level of cancer service capability of between four and five major NHS acute trusts.

Currently we provide for the NHS as partnerships with local cancer services, but we have the capability to do far more.

We can offer hundreds of trained staff, world-class treatment technology and access to cutting edge diagnostic facilities. And we have the capacity for thousands of new patients.

Our offer is all on a not-forprofit basis.

Co-operation is in place with various NHS trusts, with patients already benefiting across the country, but we want to work at a national level to ensure as many as possible can access our services.

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