Horsham parents in fight to halt relocation of children's cancer services

Parents in Horsham are among those across West Sussex fighting plans to relocate children’s cancer services to central London.
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NHS England is planning to switch paediatric cancer care from the Royal Marsden Hospital in Sutton to the Evelina Children’s Hospital in London or to St George’s Hospital in Tooting.

Annie Martin, whose daughter Issy – a pupil at Horsham’s Bohunt School – underwent gruelling cancer treatment and a stem cell transplant at the Marsden, says it would be ‘a huge mistake’ in children’s care.

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Issy launched a fundraising charity – Issy’s Silver Linings – and has now raised more than £100,000 for the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity since her diagnosis with a rare leukaemia in 2019.

Horsham parents Antony and Annie Martin with Issy (16), Tilly (12) and Eve (19) after Issy was nominated for the Sun’s Young Hero award by her consultantHorsham parents Antony and Annie Martin with Issy (16), Tilly (12) and Eve (19) after Issy was nominated for the Sun’s Young Hero award by her consultant
Horsham parents Antony and Annie Martin with Issy (16), Tilly (12) and Eve (19) after Issy was nominated for the Sun’s Young Hero award by her consultant

Now mum Annie fears for other children if the relocation plans go ahead. She is among a panel of oncology parents who have set up a campaign and petition to stop NHS England from making the switch.

“The whole of the south east will be affected by this move and children in West Sussex will see their children’s journeys to oncology appointments more than doubled.

"We currently travel to Issy’s appointments by car in under 40 minutes and the move will necessitate a two hour drive. At a few points she was travelling up to the Marsden four times per week as an outpatient. Imagine that in central London.

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"NHS England have repeatedly advised me that the train links are excellent. My daughter has spent most of the last four years with little or no immune system and has not been allowed to attend school or, post stem cell transplant, to even leave the house unless it was for a trip to the Marsden. To be asked to put these kids on a train is an insult.”And, she added: “The idea of closing a world-leading purpose-built children’s cancer hospital that is so easily accessed from the south east counties to forces us all in to London seems ill thought out to put it mildly.”

The petition states: “The decision to close and move all of the world-leading services from The Royal Marsden to an alternative London-based hospital would cause far more complications, inconsistencies in treatment and potentially hugely lengthy increases in travel times and logistics for families, at what is already a terrifying and incredibly stressful time for them. This needs to be reconsidered.”

It adds: “This proposal favours the idea that patients would travel by public transport to reduce their journey time to hospital – parents of critically-ill children with weakened immune systems would simply not risk this.”

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It concludes: “There is no other hospital like The Royal Marsden Cancer Hospital in this country – without this hospital and its staff’s expertise the future of children’s cancer services for South London and most of the South of England are at huge risk of failing. We simply cannot let this happen.”

Meanwhile, Issy, whose sister Tilly became a stem cell donor for her, now has six-weekly check-ups. She was recently nominated for the Sun’s Young Hero award by her consultant and was asked to greet Prime Minister Rishi Sunak at the event.

Christopher Tibbs, medical director, specialist commissioning, NHS England (South East) said: "Our proposals are designed to create a future children’s cancer centre which has the experience and expertise of the existing service but is on the same site as a children’s intensive care unit, surgical teams and other children’s specialists.

"We understand there is huge strength of feeling about moving services from The Royal Marsden Hospital. To deliver the best possible care however, it's a national clinical requirement to have a children’s intensive care unit on site, which is why the service is being relocated.

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"Whichever of the two proposed locations is chosen, our vision is for the future centre to build on the strengths of the existing service – providing high quality care by expert staff, good access to clinical trials, a family friendly centre, strong links with groundbreaking research working closely with the Institute of Cancer Research and achieving world-class outcomes for children with cancer for decades to come.”