Keeping cancer services running: a collaboration across north east London between providers and the independent sector

Cancer patients across north east London are continuing to receive vital care and treatment throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, thanks to a ground-breaking collaboration between the NHS and independent providers. 

The pandemic placed immense pressure on the NHS as efforts continued to care for the many covid patients who required specialist, hospital-based care.  

To ensure people have ongoing access to essential cancer services, the North East London Cancer Alliance has worked with local NHS trusts and the independent sector in a new and collaborative way – creating much-needed extra capacity. 

This approach has been hugely successful, notably working with BMI Healthcare, to secure cancer capacity at London Independent hospital, as well as with The London Clinic and with King Edward VII’s Hospital. 

This has benefited NHS patients in Barking and Dagenham, City and Hackney, Havering, Newham, Redbridge, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest. 

Ivor Baker, Interim Managing Director of the North East London Cancer Alliance, said: “We are pleased to confirm that we have been able to keep vital cancer services running in all areas, including diagnostics and screening. We have been able to do this by creating a cancer hub at the London Independent, near The Royal London Hospital. Here, we can carry out colorectal, spinal and gynae cancer surgery.  

“We have also secured capacity at The London Clinic for complex cancer work including complex gynae, HPB, interventional radiology, and complex colorectal.” 

Dr Angela Wong, Chief Medical Officer for North East London Cancer Alliance, said: “The teams from all three of our local providers (Barts Health, Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Trust and Homerton University Hospital) have been working more closely than ever before with the independent sector so we can continue to treat our local people. 

“A lot of hard work has gone into making this a successful clinical collaboration, which we look forward to building on in the future.”

Keeping patients safe 

Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the NHS has been working hard to ensure people have ongoing access to cancer care. Anyone experiencing the signs of cancer is being urged not to delay seeking medical help and to get any concerns checked out. Diagnosing cancer early makes it easier to treat. 

A range of measures have been put in place to ensure that all sites are safe for patients who need to attend appointments or undergo tests or treatment. 

Sas Banerjee, a surgeon at Barking Havering and Redbridge University NHS Trust, said: “These are green, covid-protected sites, separate from emergency work, to keep patients safe.  

“To help with this, patients will be asked to self-isolate for 14 days before accessing services. We are urging local people to keep their appointment and come in so we can provide them with the treatment they need.”

The London Clinic 

During the pandemic, care for women with gynaecological cancers who require urgent treatment has continued. To be able to offer them the services they need in a different location, at The London Clinic, has really benefited them, as well as local NHS services.  

Leonie Lonton, an NHS patient receiving treatment at The London Clinic, said: “It wasn’t a good time to find out during covid that something was wrong. What I wanted was treatment and I’m delighted to say that I have been able to receive this at The London Clinic, with really fantastic people looking after me.  

“Teams from the NHS and The London Clinic are working so collaboratively – it’s very reassuring and the care is second to none.” 

Satya Bhattacharya, Medical Director at The London Clinic, said: “One of the biggest consequences of the pandemic, with the entire health service under immense pressure, is the impact on NHS waiting lists.  

“The London Clinic is pleased to be able to alleviate some of that pressure by supporting our colleagues at The Royal London to carry out a broad spectrum of complex treatments, including for gynaecological cancers. We have put our facilities, including our custom-built cancer wing and intensive care unit, at the disposal of the NHS, and will continue to find ways to help them where we can.” 

Alexandra Lawrence, Chair of the Gynaecology Expert Reference Group at the North East London Cancer Alliance, said: “I am delighted to be collaborating with The London Clinic. This has allowed us to continue to offer high quality care to women with gynaecological cancer from north east London.   

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our theatre staff are caring for patients in intensive care so we are unable to operate at The Royal London. The excellent facilities and team at The London Clinic mean that we can treat women who need urgent cancer treatment safely.” 

The London Independent Hospital 

The collaborative approach also saw the alliance working with The London Independent Hospital to care for colorectal cancer patients, adapting services to meet their needs.  

Sunny Chada, Executive Director at BMI The London Independent Hospital, said: “I am very proud of the entire team at The London Independent who have shown their commitment to their patients and the local community.

“I am pleased that due to our investment in technology and dedication to maintaining a ‘green’ site, we were able to support our NHS colleagues by treating the most vulnerable colorectal and neurocranial cancer patients with life-saving surgery.  

“I am also incredibly proud of how the independent sector and NHS teams have come together; being pro-active, sharing resources, equipment, and consumables, whilst keeping patient safety as our core. For me, this partnership has created both a professional and personal bond between the organisations which I hope will continue into the future, in the best interests of our patients.”

King Edward VII’s Hospital 

It took just 48 hours from King Edward VII Hospital suspending all non-urgent private elective work earlier this year to have all three of its operating theatres up and running with full lists of urgent NHS cancer operations. 

Kate FarrowDirector of Operations, said: “Anticipating there would be many patients in urgent need of immediate care, we did not hesitate to turn over all resources.

“Many of us have come from senior NHS backgrounds, so we knew who we needed to liaise with, how to manage the flow of information and logistics, and how to make patients feel safe and secure in their transfer of care to a different facility.

“Our agility and experience meant we could mobilise at great pace which allowed us to carve out pathways and capacity at incredibly short notice, particularly in the treatment of patients with gynaecology, urology and breast cancer. We will continue to support our NHS colleagues in any way we can.” 

The speed at which the hospital mobilised and collaborated with NHS partners meant more than 100 cancer patients had been treated before formal arrangements were set up. As part of the collaboration, the hospital has now operated on more than 1,000 NHS patients, many of whom were from Barts Health NHS Trust.