Brain cancer patients are being denied potentially life-saving treatment at an NHS hospital, unless they pay around £6,000 to use it privately.
University College Hospital London, is not allowed to use a pioneering £2m machine, known as a ‘gamma knife’, to remove tumours while an inquiry into spending on radiation therapy is underway.
A source at the hospital has claimed the machine has been ‘lying idle for most of the week’, only available to those paying on average £6,000.
The ban was ordered in April 2013, and it is currently unclear when the final outcome of the NHS England inquiry will be published.
Although UCLH has been told by NHS England that it will not be paid for this treatment while they carry out the review, the private company which operates the Gamma Knife has treated NHS patients at their own financial risk while the review is ongoing.
The machine is one of seven in the country, three in London, two in Sheffield and one in Bristol and Leeds. However, UCHL is the only hospital which also offers private treatment.
The machine was expected to treat 200 patients per year. The procedure uses highly focused beams of radiation to treat conditions such as brain tumours.
It does not require surgery, and usually demands only local anaesthetic. Usually only one treatment is required.
A hospital source told the Daily Mirror: “A great many people have been cured by Gamma Knife machines. This one should be available to NHS patients.
“It is lying idle for much of the week. The position is scandalous.”
Tessa Munt, Liberal Democrat MP for Wells in Somerset, told the paper: “Gamma Knife specialists at University College Hospital London have been banned from treating patients for two years while they waited for the review to end.
“That means hundreds of patients with severe brain tumours have been denied treatment at one of the best hospitals in the country.
“How many of them have died in that time? This can’t be allowed to continue.”
A UCLH spokesman said: “UCLH’s National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery (NHNN) at Queen Square is one of the leading hospitals in the world for the surgical treatment of brain cancer. UCLH is at the forefront of advanced cancer therapies and, with Gamma Knife facilities on its campus, provides an outstanding and comprehensive radiotherapy service.
“Several years ago NHS commissioners agreed to pay for Gamma Knife treatment at the NHNN on an individual approval basis. We were subsequently informed that we will not be paid for this treatment while NHS England decides on a national strategy. We objected strongly to this decision and have pressed NHS England for a resolution; in the meantime we have been told to refer our own patients to one of the other two private facilities in London.
“The private company which runs the Gamma Knife at the NHNN has treated NHS patients at their financial risk while the review is ongoing. The service meets all commissioning criteria and is CQC compliant. No NHS patients have been denied treatment or been delayed if Gamma Knife treatment is clinically appropriate.”