Blair issues warning to top cancer hospital

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Tony Blair has told one of Europe's leading cancer hospitals that it is no longer fit to carry on its extensive treatment programme.

Tony Blair has told one of Europe's leading cancer hospitals that it is no longer fit to carry on its extensive treatment programme.

The world-renowned Christie Hospital in Manchester was told by the Prime Minister's office that it did not meet new guidelines to warrant the status of a designated cancer hospital - just weeks after Mr Blair launched his crusade to cut deaths from the disease by 60,000 over the next 10 years. Hospitals designated as centres of excellence qualify for extra funding.

His comments have caused consternation among the hospital's senior doctors and infuriated the Opposition.

Mr Blair became personally involved in the dispute when local Tory MP Graham Brady wrote to him voicing concerns about cancer care in the North West.

In letters obtained by the Independent on Sunday, the Prime Minister said the Christie Hospital "does not meet the specialist surgery criteria" to stand alone as a designated cancer hospital because it did not have on-site anaesthetic cover or sufficient intensive care beds.

Fourteen surgeons at the hospital immediately wrote to Mr Blair to tell him he had received advice which was "factually inaccurate".

But the Prime Minister's office, in a letter which prompted private fears that the hospital's services could be placed in jeopardy, said: "The Prime Minister hopes that the Christie Hospital NHS Trust will see this as an opportunity to examine whether it is in the best interests of patients to continue with the type of surgery that has been undertaken over the past few years."

Shadow Health Secretary Dr Liam Fox said last night: "We are talking here of highly successful specialists who have carried out specific surgery in a unit which is considered amongst the best of its kind.

"This sort of half-informed intervention by the Prime Minister threatens to turn his whole cancer campaign, which we support, into a complete fiasco."

And, although the hospital insists there is no threat of closure, some top surgeons have admitted privately that they fear Mr Blair wants to downgrade the hospital by cutting the scale and range of surgery carried out there.

A senior source said there was "no substance" to fears that there would be a "reduction in surgical services, let alone closure" but the Prime Minister's "choice of words was unfortunate" and he had received "very poor advice".

But a London-based cancer specialist told the Independent on Sunday last night that the problem was rooted in the Calman/Hine proposals which have set new guidelines for cancer hospitals. These, it is feared, may not be met by other top centres in the field aside from the Christie.

The doctor said: "It makes a mockery of it that a centre like the Christie is told it is not up to scratch when small hospitals are being told they can be cancer centres.

"If places like that are not coming up to scratch, other world-leading centres like the Royal Marsden and Mount Vernon in London may also fail the criteria."