Patients, doctors and a member of the royal family have celebrated the official opening of a life-saving cancer centre bringing cutting-edge technology to Northumberland.

The Rutherford Cancer Centre North East in Bomarsund, near Bedlington, was officially opened on Wednesday by The Duke of Gloucester, accompanied by the Duchess of Northumberland.

The centre, which has been treating patients since last August, is the only place in the region to offer proton beam therapy, a cutting-edge from of precisely targeted radiotherapy, which fights cancer cells without damaging nearby tissue. In the past, patients from the North East have travelled as far as the USA to access the treatment.

Derek McGaffigan, 77, was among the first people to use the centre - travelling from Richmond in North Yorkshire becoming their third ever radiotherapy patient. Now recovered, he returned for Wednesday's ceremony.

"It's an excellent place," he said.

"They make it such a relaxing experience for you in such a nice set up."

Patients Frank Cowburn and Derek McGaffigan

Fellow former patient Frank Cowburn, 75, from Whickham, in Gateshead, finished a course of treatment for prostate cancer in April, and said he'd been surprised by how easy the experience of seeking cancer treatment had been made at the centre.

He said: "When you're faced with cancer treatment, of course it's not something you look forward to, but strangely they managed to make it almost an enjoyable experience. 

"I would give them 11 out of 10, they certainly do make everything much easier for you. After my treatment they continued to check on me, and I know I could always come back if I was worried about anything."

 

Radiographer Danica Masters said working at the centre had offered her the opportunity take more time with her patients.

She said: "We're able to give patients however long they need and develop that personal relationship - you get the time that in the NHS you just wouldn't have. It's good for us and it's good for the patients. It's not just that there's a full package of cancer care, it's picking up on the other support that they might need - family support, emotional support, financial - and it give us the opportunity of offer that. Everything is completely personal."

The centre treats both private and NHS patients, and aims to offer cancer patients one dedicated space where they can access all the care they need in one place, alongside improved emotional support. Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust sends chemotherapy patients
to the centre, although there is not currently an NHS contract for proton beam therapy there.

The centre is set to offer proton beam therapy to around 350-500 patients per year, while it can treat 500 people with radiotherapy and 1000 for chemotherapy.

Sir James Mackey, CEO of Northumbria Healthcare NHS Foundation Trust said: "The additional services from the Rutherford Cancer Centre ensure patients continue to get access to the latest and most advanced treatments for cancer.

"This demonstrates the strength public and private sector partnerships can bring to the fight against cancer.

HRH The Duke of Gloucester officially opening the Rutherford cancer care centre in Northumberland

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery added: "This is a £30m investment in health in our region and it obviously should be celebrated. The NHS trusts across the region are doing a fantastic job, and this is additional to the NHS, it's offering a different type of facility and if people can come here for chemotherapy and radiotherapy and ease the pressure on NHS facilities, then that's a great thing."

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Speaking as he unveiled an opening plaque at the centre, HRH The Duke of Gloucester, said: “It gives me great pleasure for me to come here and have this very magnificent task of declaring your new Rutherford Cancer Centre officially open. Cancer cure rates are extremely poor considering that we lead the world in cancer research. There are lots of clever people who are learning more and more about cancer and how to cure it.

"It can only be through applying these principles with the greatest efficiency that we can reverse the statistics.”

“Congratulations on having created this splendid building and being part of your system that I am sure will bring greater comfort to your patients."