Bold vision for specialist cancer centre on hold due to spending freeze

Macmillan Cancer Support warns the current set up at Edinburgh's Western General isn't fit for purpose.

A bold vision for a world class specialist cancer centre in Edinburgh is on hold due to a Scottish Government spending freeze.

Two new and upgraded units will open next month for cancer patients at the city’s Western General but any more improvements to meet future treatment need and demands are currently on hold.

On the existing site, those behind the proposals say they’re modernising where they can and have refurbished two oncology units to cope with increasing numbers of patients.

A leading charity fears without major investment, the current set-up will struggle to meet future treatment needs.

Kate Seymour, of Macmillan Cancer Support, told STV News the current set up isn’t fit for purpose.

She said: “Edinburgh has a fast-growing population. It also has an ageing population, which we know means there will be an ever-increasing number of people being diagnosed with cancer.”

Specialist radiotherapy equipment is being tested and treatment bays are being prepped, ready to deliver care to cancer patients.

Some £24m has been spent on upgrading oncology services at Edinburgh’s Western General.

One addition is a purpose built assessment unit – its effectively an accident & emergency for cancer patients – struggling with the side effects of treatment or managing symptoms.

Alex McGinnity was recently admitted to the hospital after his temperature spiked following chemotherapy. He needed an emergency transfusion.

Alex McGinnity.STV News

Mr McGinnity told STV News: “Within 48 hours of being admitted, I was sent back home like a completely different person.

“I felt like back to normal, almost like I had no cancer at all. The treatment I received here was tremendous and I can’t thank them enough. The compassion the staff show to patients is unbelievable.”

NHS Lothian say the demand for cancer treatment and services has significantly outgrown existing facilities. This unit aims to improve patient flow through the hospital, with staff assessing who needs to be admitted for further care.

Senior charge nurse Lesley Shepherd said: “It has just improved morale so much, it’s such a nice environment to work in and so much more comfortable for patients. We now have dedicated pharmacy support and occupational therapy and physio support, so it’s kind of the whole service we are able to offer.”

NHS Lothian had planned to go further on this site. It wants to build a world class specialist cancer centre – at an estimated cost of £1.2bn.

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The signs may say they’re building for the future, but a capital spending freeze means nothing else will be happening here any time soon.

Western General site director Chris Stirling said: “That plan was to try and address the longer term capacity pressures which we see coming.

“Is that just now a pipedream? I certainly hope not. Yes we are concerned and it is a genuine anxiety because we know that population growth is real and its coming and we have to respond.

“If someone came with a large cheque today, it would be ten years at least before we actually opened a new facility so we would expect to have to work in the intervening period to innovate our services and manage as best we can.”

Following the budget announcement in December, the Scottish Government advised all NHS boards to immediately stop any development spend.

At least a dozen construction projects are affected.

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A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Based on the latest forecasts, our block grant for capital is expected to reduce in real terms by over £1.3bn by 2027-28.

“The result of this cut is that new health capital projects have currently been paused for the moment. Our emphasis for the immediate future will be on addressing backlog maintenance and essential equipment replacement.

“We are preparing our revised infrastructure investment pipeline and anticipate this will be published alongside the Medium-Term Financial Strategy in the coming weeks.”

The issue will be discussed at NHS Lothian’s board meeting on Wednesday.

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