THE new £180m Velindre Cancer Centre is planned on land known locally as the Northern Meadows, scrubland popular with walkers in northwest Cardiff.
But a letter signed by 163 “senior clinicians” is calling for the new Velindre cancer hospital to be built at the Heath instead. The letter addressed to the health minister Vaughan Gething says building the cancer hospital next to the University Hospital of Wales would be safer for patients.
It is unclear who signed the letter, which was revealed after a freedom of information request, as the signatures were redacted.
The letter, sent last month, said:
“As a large group of clinicians who are all specialists in the diagnosis, treatment and care of cancer patients in southeast Wales, we recognise the pressing need to address the ageing facilities of the Velindre Cancer Centre in north Cardiff.
“Co-location with an acute hospital would provide safer acute in-patient care, improve support from other specialities, create a better base for research and be in line with best practice elsewhere.”
The new hospital is set to replace the current 60-year-old centre in Whitchurch. Velindre says the massive £180 million investment will improve the quality and safety of care and enhance the patient experience.
Campaigners Save the Northern Meadows have previously raised concerns about the environmental impacts of building a hospital on the meadows — land which is owned by Cardiff & Vale UHB but is used often by members of the public for walking.
Adding another aspect to the debate is the medical question of whether it’s best to treat cancer patients at a separate site or next to a large existing acute hospital.
The 163 clinicians who signed the letter did not want to be named publicly, according to Save the Northern Meadows, for fear of bullying.
In the letter, the clinicians added: “We are convinced there is an opportunity to integrate existing plans for the Velindre Cancer Centre new-build with those for a reconfigured University Hospital Wales.”
Velindre is planning to open the new hospital in 2024. The hospital already has planning permission from Cardiff council. But the next step is getting approval from the Welsh Government, which means the health minister signing off the outline business case.
After that, construction work on the new hospital is scheduled to begin next year.
Much of the debate around the medical question centres on a report carried out by the Nuffield Trust, an independent think tank.
The Nuffield report, published last December, gave advice on the clinical model underpinning the major proposed changes to cancer services offered by Velindre.
The changes include delivering more care in patient’s homes, creating new sites across south-east Wales including a radiotherapy centre in Abergavenny, and building the new hospital on the Northern Meadows.
The report found that co-locating the new hospital at the UHW “would have advantages, but is not practical for some considerable time”, while cancer services in the region need to improve urgently and the current hospital is “not fit for purpose”.
It recommended focusing care at the new hospital on outpatients, while inpatients at risk of “major escalation” should be treated elsewhere, like at the UHW. Overall, the report said the plans Velindre is suggesting “represents a reasonable way forward”.
A joint statement from Velindre and three health boards — Aneurin Bevan, Cardiff & Vale and Cwm Taf Morgannwg — backed the findings of the Nuffield report.
The statement said:
“We fully support the Nuffield Trust’s comprehensive and expert report on the future of non-surgical oncology in south-east Wales. We are working together to ensure that all the recommendations are taken forward.
“The Nuffield Trust’s process allowed for a broad range of views to be heard by interviewing a range of clinicians from Velindre and surrounding health services, patients and their representatives including hosting open access sessions for Velindre staff, reviewing papers from working groups, individual testimonies and letters from patients and staff.
“We are fully committed to working together to deliver excellent cancer treatment and care for patients across south-east Wales in partnership with our staff, patients and healthcare colleagues.”