‘Thousands of families are devastated’: Parents hit out at decision to move children’s cancer care unit

Thousands of parents with children who suffered from cancer have been left “devastated” after last week’s decision by NHS leaders to move children’s cancer services into central London.

Treatment for about 1,400 children aged under 15 is currently provided by St George’s Hospital in Blackshaw Road, Tooting and the Royal Marsden Hospital in Downs Road, Sutton.

But from autumn 2026, the Evelina London Children’s Hospital in Westminster Bridge Road, Lambeth, will provide the care. As part of the move, radiotherapy will be provided at University College Hospital. 

NHS leaders said all three hospitals would “ensure a smooth handover” and have stressed there will be “no sudden changes to children’s care”.

Nollaig Griffin is one of 12,000 people who have signed a petition opposing the transfer (Picture: Nollaig Griffin)

But parents claimed the move would be more expensive, less efficient in terms of staffing, and could negatively impact patients by making it harder to travel by car for treatment.

Nollaig Griffin, 46, of Commonside East, Mitcham, spent three years taking her son, now nine, to the Royal Marsden for cancer treatment.

She said: “People in Mitcham and Morden are already losing access to A&E and maternity services at St Helier hospital and now we are losing paediatric oncology. 

“In Central London they have Great Ormond Street – it seems unfair we don’t have any options left here.”

Mrs Griffin’s son has finished his treatment but will need check-ups for the rest of his life.

She said: “We might have to miss check-ups because travelling to Evelina is so disruptive. He will miss whole days of school for an hour in the hospital.”

Evelina London Children’s Hospital in Lambeth (Picture: Google Street View)

Mrs Griffin also said the move will put more pressure on hospitals in areas like Morden and Mitcham.

She said: “There are particular medications that people in local hospitals are not trained to give. Staff will have to be trained so they can support the people who can’t afford to travel to Evelina  – that is going to cost millions.”

Mrs Griffin is one of 12,000 people who have signed a petition opposing the transfer.

From left, Lewis Houghton being held by his father, and Jenny Houghton with their daughter (Picture: Jenny Houghton)

The petition was set up in October 2023, by 45-year-old Surrey resident Jenny Houghton. In 2015, her son, Lewis Houghton, now 15, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent intensive chemotherapy at the Royal Marsden for a year. Since then he has been in remission.

Mrs Houghton said: “They are giving the service to a hospital which will be reliant on surgeons from the Royal Marsden traveling in. The justifications do not balance out the upheaval this will cause.”

A spokeswoman for Evelina London Children’s Hospital said: “Bringing together staff from the current Principal Treatment Centre, including the world-renowned team from the Royal Marsden, with the many specialist teams at Evelina London who already care for children with complex medical conditions, will provide joined up and innovative care for children with cancer.”

Lewis Houghton was diagnosed with cancer in 2015 (Picture: Jenny Houghton)

The decision for the transfer was made after new service rules in 2021 set out that specialist cancer treatment services for children must be on the same site as a level-three children’s intensive care unit, which the Royal Marsden does not have.

Mrs Houghton said: “One in four children at Royal Marsden need neurosurgery which isn’t offered at Evelina, one in three need radiotherapy, which isn’t offered either.

“The impact of cancer treatment on a child is crippling. Depending on their needs they might have to be transferred between three different hospitals. There is a possibility children could die.”

A 12-week public consultation of children, families and staff, run by NHS England for 12 weeks from September 2023 to December 2023, looked at the options for both St George’s and Evelina Children’s Hospital.

Ms Houghton said: “Thousands of families are devastated. For years we fought this and we were assured our feedback would be listened to, but it has been packaged up and ignored.”

A spokesman from NHS England said: “We chose Evelina London as the future location for the service following a robust process over several years that has involved clinical cancer specialists, children with cancer and their parents, NHS staff, local communities and their representatives, this included a 12-week public consultation, and very careful consideration of all the information that was shared through this alongside other relevant evidence.

“Our consultation received more than 2650 responses. Alongside this, we ran 115 online or face to face engagement meetings. Of these, 58 were with children, young people, their families and staff currently working in the PTC and 25 were with equalities groups.”

Pictured top: Lewis Houghton during his cancer treatment at The Royal Marsden hospital in 2015 (Picture: Jenny Houghton)

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