Green light for Northumberland cancer centre – the first in England

An example of how the treatment rooms will look at the new centre.
An example of how the treatment rooms will look at the new centre.

Northumberland looks set to become the first place in England offering a topical and cutting-edge form of cancer treatment.

As we reported last year, the proton beam therapy treatment centre, the second to be built by Proton Partners International in the UK, will be situated on the Earth Balance wellness site in Bomarsund and should be operational by 2017.

The application for the state-of-the-art facility was unanimously approved on Tuesday by Northumberland County Council’s strategic planning committee.

Proton beam therapy (PBT) is a type of radiotherapy used in cancer treatment, delivering heavily-charged protons in a more targeted manner to reduce damage to other tissue and organs.

The treatment hit the national headlines early last year when the parents of five-year-old Ashya King took him from a British hospital and fled abroad to seek the treatment.

PBT was back in the news at the weekend after a US study found the technique caused fewer side effects than conventional radiotherapy.

The Government has also committed £250million to developing high-energy PBT services in the UK, with two facilities being planned in London and Manchester, which are expected to offer services from 2018.

Planning officer Neil Armstrong had recommended the scheme for approval and described it as a ‘unique opportunity’ for healthcare provision in the county.

Coun Andrew Tebbutt said: “It’s the last application of the day and there’s not many people left, but what we are about to consider is a ground-breaking, fantastic development.

“Anyone who saw the news over the weekend will know that proton beam therapy is the way forward for children with cancer.”

Coun Jeff Gobin said: “What an opportunity we have here.” Coun Dougie Watkin added: “Everyone here would wish it every success.”

At the launch event last summer, Mike Moran, CEO of Proton Partners International, whose first facility is in Wales where work has now started, explained that his firm’s vision is to develop world expertise in PBT treatment – ‘a world-class centre in a world-class county’.

Following the planning permission being granted, he said: “We are committed to bring proton beam therapy to the UK and this planning permission is the next piece of the jigsaw.

“The socio-economic impact will see the area evolve and develop into a state-of-the-art cancer treatment facility, leading the way in the latest developments in science and technology. The facility will also provide skilled employment opportunities within Northumberland.

“By placing our centre in Northumberland, close to transport links, it can cater to a wider group of people in the north of England and Scotland who would benefit from proton beam therapy.

“Our centres will provide an all-encompassing cancer service for patients, offering proton beam therapy, as well as chemotherapy, traditional radiotherapy and imaging. We hope that in addition to providing top-quality cancer care, our centres will become hubs of excellence for advanced cancer treatment.”