New €35m cancer care centre to open at the CUH next year

Construction is underway at Cork University Hospital on a state-of-the-art new cancer centre set to open early next year. The hospital's CEO Tony McNamara talks to Darragh Bermingham about the development.
New €35m cancer care centre to open at the CUH next year
Construction on the new Radiation Oncology Centre at the CUH Campus in Wilton. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

Cork University Hospital is aiming to be one of the best cancer treatment centres in Ireland and is keen to make its mark internationally, according to the Hospital’s Chief Executive, Tony McNamara.

Construction is underway on a €35 million Radiation Oncology Centre on the hospital grounds. The centre is a combined project between CUH and the renowned UK cancer centre in Christie Hospital in Manchester. It is expected to be completed by February 2019.

The new building has been designed to minimise the stress of cancer treatment and provide optimum patient flow. The centre is part of the Government's plan to develop a network of specialist services for cancer patients.

As well as CUH, University Hospital Galway will also be opening a new Radiation Oncology Centre in the near future, with the project approximately a year behind that of CUH.

“That will mirror the development here and these projects will complement those already available in Dublin,” said Mr McNamara, CEO of CUH.

“We feel we have a tremendous opportunity here to be the leading Radiation Oncology Department in the country and with the help of the Christie, we’ll make our mark internationally.

Tony McNamara, Chief Executive Officer of Cork University Hospital at the construction site for the new radiation and oncology ward. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
Tony McNamara, Chief Executive Officer of Cork University Hospital at the construction site for the new radiation and oncology ward. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“The equipment we have now is old, the equipment we’re getting will be state of the art,” he added.

“The capacity to treat patients will increase greatly.

“We’re fortunate that the Christie has this equipment so we can take their protocols and their guidelines and expertise and transpose them into here, which will have a great impact.

“It’s a challenge for our own staff but it’s a great opportunity to use this €35 million development and state of the art equipment to provide the best possible cancer treatment to the people of this region.” 

Five linear accelerators will be commissioned at first for the new Department, but an expansion factor in the project will allow CUH to add a further seven.

A linear accelerator is used to treat all parts/organs of the body by delivering high-energy x-rays or electrons to the region of the patient's tumour.

These treatments can be designed in such a way that they destroy the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue.

“The equipment going into the building, the linear accelerators are very complex, and will require around six months to commission and install,” said Mr McNamara.

“The commission of the first two processors will begin as soon as construction is complete.

“We’re very fortunate in that the linear processors we’re purchasing are the very same as the ones that are functioning in the Christie cancer treatment centre in Manchester,” he added.

“The physicists and the team over there are familiar with this equipment so that will be a big help in speeding up the process.” 

“As demands grow on the services over time, these added accelerators will be commissioned over this period,” said Mr McNamara.

General View, artist impression of the atrium and waiting area of the new Radiation Oncology Centre. Picture: Jim Coughlan.
General View, artist impression of the atrium and waiting area of the new Radiation Oncology Centre. Picture: Jim Coughlan.

“We employed a Lean Manager to examine the project and ensure that there will be optimum patient flow, minimum revenue costs, waiting areas are adjacent to treatment areas and more.

Mr McNamara said this process was so detailed, even the colour scheme for the building has been designed to minimise the stress of cancer treatment.

“The design we have now is best practice in terms of this type of project,” he added.

As well as a staffing partnership between Christie and CUH, the new department will also hail the arrival of new staff, according to Mr McNamara, along with the 35 added between 2017 and 2018.

CUH staff visited the Christie Cancer Centre in Manchester in 2016, with the aim of researching the best treatment and research centres in the world, to influence the new project in Cork.

The partnership between CUH and the Manchester centre began in Autumn last year, and it is one Mr McNamara said he is keen to see continue.

“We were keen, as part of the expansion of our international portfolio, to link up with a major cancer centre,” he said.

“We visited the centre in the Christie, which is among the top five in the world, in 2016, and we saw the opportunity for them to add value to what we’re doing here.

“With the support of the National Cancer Control Programme and the South/South West Hospital Group (SSWHG), we engaged with the Christie in the Autumn of last year and that’s been a really important stimulus for us to review practices, to work on and import their expertise,” he added.

“They’ll continue to work with us, I hope, long after the construction is finished here,” he said.

“Doctors, the head of nursing over there, the physicists, therapists and management will be working with us.

“Christies are keen to have an international portfolio and we’re keen to have one too and this is a relationship that’s working very well and we’re grateful for the support from the NCCP in making this happen.” While the centre is predicted to be fully operational by mid-2019, Mr McNamara said that cancer treatments could begin once it opens in February.

“Once the building opens in February, we’ll be examining what services can be transferred over there as quickly as possible to free up additional space in the hospital,” he said.

“Our project team will be looking at that in the coming months.” Mr McNamara added that the partnership between CUH and Christie's has already benefited patients in Cork, and will continue to do so before the centre even opens.

“They’re a leading cancer centre and they have a level of expertise and a large scale,” he said.

“They’re an academic research centre as well, constantly pushing the boundaries in terms of cancer treatments.

“What they’re applying and providing in the Manchester centre will be available to patients here, not only from February next year but from right now because they’re working with our team over here already,” he added.

The hospital will now seek ISO (International Standards Organisation) accreditation for the new centre in early 2019, a process which will have a positive impact even before it is achieved, according to Mr McNamara.

“We’re pursuing ISO accreditation for the new Radiation Oncology Unit, just as we have for other departments,” he said.

“The pursuit of ISO accreditation will assure the public that our system is as good as it absolutely can be, services that they can have confidence in.

“The process of seeking accreditation can actually be as good as getting it because the system goes through the rigour of getting all the systems in order so it is continually improving in the process,” he added.

While the CervicalCheck incident rages on, striking at people’s confidence in cancer screening and treatment processes, Mr McNamara said it is important for the public to see hospitals such as CUH investing in state of the art treatment and making it available to the people.

“As one of eight cancer centres in the country, the challenge for us is to be the best we very can,” he said.

“The population and public depend on hospitals like this to provide the level of services they need.

“The public need to know that what we're doing is best practice and they should be assured that the linkages we have with Christie in Manchester and the standards they are setting for us are of the highest international standard,” he added.

“It’s an exciting project and I think it’s one that the public will be excited about it when they see it.”

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