Children’s cancer care moving from St George’s and Royal Marsden

NHS England announced last month that specialist children’s cancer services will move to the Evelina London by October 2026 at the earliest.

Care for children aged 15 and under at both St George’s Hospital in Tooting and Royal Marsden in Sutton will be forced to move, at an estimated cost of £40 million.

The decision, which follows a 12-week public consultation process, comes in spite of significant backlash from MPs and public campaigners.

An online petition against the relocation, organised by Jenny Houghton under the #HeartheMarsdenKids campaign, has received 12,000 signatures. 

Houghton said: “Anyone with any form of sensibility would say that spending over £40 million to close a world leading cancer centre is beyond insane and dangerous and that they urgently need to go back to the drawing board.

“They haven’t listened to us at all, it’s like dealing with stubborn children that don’t understand why what they’re doing is wrong.”

The decision is due to new national guidelines, which state that specialist cancer treatment must be provided on the same site as a Level 3 children’s intensive care unit. 

Houghton, who’s 14-year-old son Lewis was successfully treated at The Royal Marsden, insisted that moving care based on such guidelines was illogical given that the majority of children in treatment do not require intensive care. 

She said: “No other organisation would make a decision by looking at the minority of people it will help, especially given that it’s going to negatively impact such a huge percentage of patients and their parents who are all absolutely terrified. 

“The Royal Marsden saved my son’s life and I feel like we’ve failed all of these parents.” 

A photo of Jenny Houghton and her husband pictured with their son in the garden whilst he was having cancer treatment.
LIVED EXPERIENCE: Houghton pictured with her husband and son during his cancer treatment.

Ed Davey, Liberal Democrat Leader and MP for Kingston and Surbiton raised the relocation issue in Parliament to the Prime Minister on 13 March.

He is also set to meet with the Secretary of State for Health, Victoria Atkins, asking her to delay the decision by overruling NHS England. 

Seven south-west London councillors also signed a cross party letter to Atkins urging her to reverse the decision.

Davey said: “The government has got to stand up and we’re not going to let this pass without a fight.

“Keeping care at St George’s is much more deliverable.

It’s cheaper, it’s what parents want, it’s what MPs want, the scientific and medical evidence is overwhelming, and I can’t help but feel that there is some NHS internal politics going on here.”

According to data by Cancer Research UK, around 1,800 children under the age of 15 are diagnosed with cancer in the UK every year, equating to roughly 5 a day. 

The Royal Marsden’s Oak Centre for Children and Young People sees more than 5,000-day patients a year, with 100% of their paediatric patients feeling like they were well looked after, according to data by the Care Quality Commission. 

Ruth Dombey, who recently stepped down as leader of the Leader of Sutton Council and received treatment for breast cancer from the Marsden, spoke of the particular problems immunodeficient children with cancer will face when travelling on a weekly basis for treatment at the Evelina. 

Dombey said: “Of course every parent wants the absolute best care for their child, but the idea that any family would take a very sick child on public transport, especially if they are immunodeficient, is just unthinkable.

William Brookes, a parent of a child receiving treatment at the Marsden who signed Houghton’s petition, said: “Any suggestion of travel into London by public transport would be nonsensical.” 

NHS England have insisted that the decision remains in the best interest of children and, alongside the current support provided regarding parking and non-emergency patient transport, will now focus on helping to identify families who require help with transport and seek to provide parking spaces and accommodation for parents to stay near their child.

An NHS England spokesperson said: “This is a positive step forward for children’s cancer care. 

“As a specialist children’s hospital which treats 120,000 children a year, Evelina London’s wide range of services, support for hospitals across its catchment area to look after poorly young patients, and strong performance in research are just some of the factors that showed it is the right place for the future Children’s Cancer Centre.”

The spokesperson also believed NHS England’s public consultation process to be robust, receiving more than 2650 responses and conducting 115 online or face to face engagement meetings. 

Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham, debate in the House of Commons on the relocation of children’s cancer care in the South-East on Wednesday March 13 can be read here.

Photo credit: Elisa.rolle, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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