A state-of-the-art cancer treatment centre, which will help to position Northumberland at the forefront of healthcare, is being built partly due to ‘the pioneering spirits’ in the county.
As reported by the Gazette last week, Proton Partners International is building a Proton Beam Therapy (PBT) centre in the south-east of the county, which will be the first to become operational in England.
It will be situated on the Earth Balance wellness site in Bomarsund and should be operational by 2017.
Mike Moran, CEO of Proton Partners International, explained that his firm’s vision is to develop world expertise in PBT treatment – ‘a world-class centre in a world-class county’.
“We want to transform cancer care in the UK,” he said. “We can’t say we have a first-world health service without Proton Beam Therapy.”
But why Northumberland? Mr Moran said: “Northumberland is very important to us and we have seen some real pioneering spirits.
“You only have to look at the trauma hospital (at Cramlington) that’s been built here and that’s a great testament to what can happen in the North East.
“We want to be part of that, they are only a couple of miles down the road and it’s great to join that so there’s a much better provision.”
Another reason for locating the centre in Northumberland is that the area has an underprovision of radiotherapy services. The Bomarsund centre will not just provide PBT, but also diagnostics, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
A total of £100million in debt and equity has been raised by Proton Partners, set to be completed soon, with the first centre in Newport, Wales, due to open in late 2016 or early 2017.
The Northumberland centre – the first in England – will become operational in quarter two or quarter three of 2017, followed by a third in London, while a deal has been struck for the company to build another centre in Abu Dhabi, near the Formula One circuit.
The NHS has recently announced two centres – in Manchester and London – which will use larger, multi-room PBT systems, which cost around £85million each, while Proton Partners uses newer, compact systems, which cost around £20million.
However, that is not to say that NHS patients won’t be able to undergo treatment at the centre, although the details are being worked out.
“We would certainly treat any patient who came through the door,” said Mr Moran.
“We would like to work alongside the NHS, we certainly want to be collaborative with the NHS and we have made a commitment to the NHS because we will network our centres – we are the first organisation to ever network these types of centres around the world and our centre in Abu Dhabi will also be networked here.
“We will then use that patient data, feed that in, hopefully share that with the NHS and try to break down the barriers and build up that understanding of PBT’s efficacy as a treatment.”
This news will be welcome to anyone with friends or relatives who may need to receive PBT, which previously required a trip to the likes of the USA.
Asked why the UK seems to be behind other nations on PBT, Mr Moran said: “Outside the UK, there’s a lot of private provision whereas here it’s often the National Health Service and the private providers are considered as profiteers maybe.
“We consider ourselves as providing a very valuable service and bringing a first-world technology to the UK. PBT isn’t a panacea, it’s not a silver bullet, but 10 per cent of people who have radiotherapy would do better with PBT.”
Each centre will employ 19 members of staff and the impact on the local economy cannot be underestimated.
Mr Moran said: “We want this to support the local economy. We are very careful to look at our impact on the local economy and see how you can benefit best from our presence here.”
Over the three years from 2016 to 2018, Proton Partners will directly invest £16million in the Northumberland site and, based on Government measures of economic impact, this will translate into a £65million investment in the local economy.
Take into account the wider expansion of the Earth Balance site and the benefits will be much greater.
The centre will be situated among the 200 acres of parkland on the Earth Balance wellness site in Bomarsund.
Alongside the treatment centre, there are plans to develop accommodation and recreation facilities for the estimated 400 patients a year who will treated there.
They want to create a hotel as well as lodges around the lake for families (as many of the patients are likely to be children) where people can stay for the month.
Treatment takes place every day for 30 days, but the parkland environment will help youngsters feel more relaxed than in a hospital environment.
Earth Balance chairman Alan Rutherford said that the site, first opened 20 years ago, is now ‘a vibrant community providing much-needed services’.
The charity has recently been reconstituted under a new trading company and the site has been redefined as a wellness village, aiming to equip the surrounding communties with health, wellness and fitness tools.
Referring to the accommodation and recreation facilities proposed, he said: “These are ambitious plans, but we are well underway.”
This is in large part thanks to sponsor Paul Fraser, originally from the North East, who has spent decades managing and setting up businesses in the construction industry.
Mr Rutherford also thanked Northumberland County Council, particularly the leader Grant Davey, deputy leader Dave Ledger and chief executive Steve Mason, as ‘without their support, we couldn’t have got started’.
Coun Davey said: “The pits and heavy industry which first brought economic wealth to this part of Northumberland may be unfortunately long gone, but our reputation for reinventing ourselves and bringing new innovation to the county has always remained strong.
“So here we are, on a significant day for Northumberland, talking about the cutting edge of modern technology basing itself here on the Earth Balance site.
“In Northumberland, we are committed to doing everything in our power to support economic growth in the county – indeed, we have the ambitious target of supporting the creation of 10,000 jobs by 2031.
“Our role as a council is about enabling developments or sensitively investing to unlock wider growth to make good places even better – this Proton Park is a great example of that.
“These are exciting times, not just for Earth Balance, Proton Partners International or the county council, but the whole region, and we are delighted to be able to be part of this hugely significant investment.”