Mount Vernon could be moved to Watford after plans revealed for cancer clinic consultation
Deborah Price, Local democracy reporter
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Watford has been earmarked as a future site for cancer treatment for patients from across Hertfordshire, as well as north London, Buckinghamshire, Luton and Bedfordshire, a service currently offered by Mount Vernon.
Concerns about Mount Vernon – in Northwood, in north London – being an ageing building, as well as lacking intensive care facilities or other hospital specialities, have been raised and last year an independent clinical report recommended that the services should move to an acute hospital site as part of a strategic review.
On Friday, December 18 matter was raised at a meeting of the county council's health scrutiny committee, and it is also understood that future proposals could include enhanced access to services – such as chemotherapy – at other sites too.
Jessemy Kinghorn, head of partnerships and engagement for NHS England and NHS Improvement, told councillors that 10 potential hospital sites had been considered by the board.
But only Watford, she said, had met both the clinical and accessibility criteria that ensured only limited increases in travel times for those travelling by car or public transport.
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As part of the changes, it was said, the cancer services would sit alongside Watford General, rather than within it. Although it was said that as part of the initial engagement patients had suggested there should be a physical link between the two.
No funding has been identified for the move, with more detailed work on the feasibility of a move to Watford planned in coming months.
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And committee chair Cllr Seamus Quilty stressed that the plans were in their ‘infancy’.
“This is just at the start – its a marathon that is going to go on here.” he said. “It’s going to be a long long time before there is any real decision made.”
During the meeting, Labour county councillor Margaret Eames-Petersen questioned the way travel times had been assessed – pointing to the journeys undertaken by patients from the north and east of the county.
But Ms Kinghorn said that it had been “a massive balancing act” and that moving services to the Lister Hospital would have increased travel times from other areas by “extraordinary amounts”.
Meanwhile Sarah Brierley, from the East and North Herts NHS Trust – which runs the Lister Hospital, in Stevenage – said they were “fully supportive” of the review.
But she said they would be pushing very hard for the inclusion of satellite radiotherapy provision within the Stevenage and North Hertfordshire areas.
Virtual engagement events on the development of the proposals are already planned for Welwyn Hatfield, Watford, Stevenage, St Albans and Hemel Hempstead – with a formal public consultation expected to start next year.
Following the meeting, Ms Kinghorn said: “We really want to involve local people in the development of these proposals so that we can use this opportunity to make sure we develop cancer services that improve outcomes for local people.”
While a spokesperson for West Herts Hospitals Trust gave a cautious welcome to the proposed changes.
“We owe it to our patients and staff to deliver on the promise we made to open our new hospital and redevelop our other sites by 2025, or as soon as possible thereafter,” said the spokesperson.
“Whilst we welcome the news that Mount Vernon cancer services may move to the Watford General Hospital site, more detailed work will be needed before anything is finalised.
“It would therefore be completely unacceptable to delay our plans while these assessments are undertaken and funding is identified.
“Our preliminary assessment has already shown that the needs of the Mount Vernon cancer services could be accommodated on the Watford General Hospital site, albeit managed by another provider.
“Our clinicians are supportive of the proposed relocation and the benefits to patients of having this specialist, regional service incorporated into the redeveloped hospital in Watford. In the meantime, we continue to develop our plans.”
A final decision is expected to be taken by the end of 2021.