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11,000 people back campaign to keep cancer services in Cornwall

sunrise centre treliske

Published by the Pirate FM News Team at 2:42pm 29th January 2018. (Updated at 4:40pm 29th January 2018)

More than 11,000 people have backed a campaign to keep cancer services in Cornwall.

Pirate FM told you about the fears that treatment could be moved away from the Sunrise Centre at Treliske.

It could mean patients would have to travel as far as Plymouth, Exeter or even Bristol if government plans to centralise radiotherapy go ahead.

Now the NHS says thousands of people have been in touch to express their concerns.

In a statement, NHS England said: "Due to the high number of responses received, it will take some time to understand the different views put forward."

The centralisation of services would result in a network that spans from Gloucestershire to Penzance, with the Sunrise Centre only allowed to treat less common and rarer cancer if it meets minimum case numbers of over 50 per year.

Janet Shephard, Former Head of Radiotherapy and Trustee of The Sunrise Appeal said: "We were told that we were getting het up about nothing and getting things out of proportion, that there are no plans to close the Sunrise Centre and that it was just a very small number of patients with rare tumours that could be affected."

Consultants at the Sunrise Centre said the proposals could directly affect 200 or more patients a year from Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.

They were also worried that if the consultation gets the green light, the changes could result in the cutting-edge technology at the Sunrise Centre being underutilised and potentially mothballed in the future.

The Sunrise Appeal, a charity that has raised more than £3m to date for world-class oncology services at Royal Cornwall Hospital, Treliske, agrees.

Mrs Shephard continued: "I don't believe that's getting het up about nothing, I don't believe that's getting things out of proportion and, as the public's reaction to the consultation proves, neither does a huge portion of the population. The support we've received has been astonishing."

"Local radio, television and press have given the story a wide coverage and given us a greater voice," Mrs Shephard explained. "Questions were also raised in Parliament by our local MPs and the Prime Minister called for everyone to respond to the survey. We asked everyone to share and shout - and they have."

Since the consultation was announced, over a quarter of a million people have seen The Sunrise Appeal's campaign on its Facebook page, with thousands of people expressing their concerns and sharing their stories on social media.

The charity also produced a film explaining the changes, which has now been viewed more than 130,000 times.

However, NHS England defended the scheme, saying it was looking to maximise the effectiveness of its £130m equipment modernisation investment.

This means that while the majority of cancer patients would continue to receive treatment at The Sunrise Centre in Truro, certain treatments for less common types of cancer may have to be carried out at larger centres out of the county.

In a national poll1, 96% of participants agreed that cancer patients should have to travel no more than 45 minutes each way for radiotherapy treatment, echoing the National Radiotherapy Advisory Group's recommended travel time according to their 2007 report.

Sir Tim Smit, Co-Founder of The Eden Project and a Patron of The Sunrise Appeal, was also quick to back the campaign, calling for everybody to "get behind this and make sure we keep such an excellent thing at the heart of our county," whilst Paul Jennings, a volunteer cancer patient driver who drives those suffering with the disease to and from their treatment in Cornwall, dubbed the plan a "death sentence."

He said: "For many patients in rural areas such as Cornwall, the journey to hospital is already 45 minutes plus, so the prospect of an even greater travel time is just incomprehensible. The whole experience is already exhausting and an ordeal, so can you imagine adding an hour, two or maybe even three hours in the summer to an already grueling journey? Shocking."

A full statement released on NHS England's website said that: "Due to the high number of responses received, it will take some time to understand the different views put forward."

"This is now being analysed so that NHS England can carefully consider the proposals in light of the feedback. A formal response to the consultation will be published on this page in due course."

The Sunrise Centre and fellow campaigners are now awaiting outcome, with Mrs Shephard explaining, "I think NHS England got a few more responses than they were hoping for! I can say with confidence that this is one public consultation which has definitely not slipped quietly under the radar, so I want to say thank you to everyone that took the time to fill in the campaign and make their voice heard and to everyone who has joined us in this campaign so far."

The consultation period closed on 24th January, with NHS England due to make their ensuing recommendations in April.

Mrs Shephard added: "Come April, we will either be able to celebrate or we will be rallying our supporters once again to take the fight to the next stage! I truly believe that together we can do this; together we can make people listen and together we can make a difference."

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