A dedicated team of hospital fundraisers has spent the last two years campaigning for the money needed to build a new cancer research centre. With the end almost in sight BARBARA FISHER met the professor heading the fundraising efforts, and asked him just how important it is to find the rest of the money required.
WHILE it was great news that a £1.43million centre would be built at Mount Vernon Hospital, front line specialists are worried where the final £200,000 - which they need for the new building and for funding vital drugs trials - will come from.
Professor Gordon Rustin explained: "The charity started life in 1985, but this particular bit was launched two years ago to build a new clinical trials unit at Mount Vernon.
"We started off appealing for £1m but the architect came back with a better, £1.5m design which would benefit all 'chemo' patients, not just those in trials."
Former patients and other fundraisers, and money from grants, trusts and legacies have all helped raise nearly all the money needed.
A weary Prof Rustin now hopes the wider community may be wiling to help with the final push.
The 25 consultants, including 10 oncologists, at Mount Vernon have all done their bit. None has raised less than £10,000.
But work on the centre should start in December, giving them just six months to find the remaining crucial cash.
Prof Rustin said: "We fund over 500 patients in clinical trials at the moment and they are all over the hospital.
"We want to put them, and the (other) patients, together in the same place, so staff can work together and the equipment and records will be together. Also we would be able to cover a lot more patients.
"For the vast majority, cancer treatment is not yet good enough.
"We don't cure enough - some cancers don't even shrink, and some cancer treatments are still pretty unpleasant.
"The only way we can bring in new treatments is to test them in clinical trials. About 40 per cent of my patients are offered the chance to go on a trial, and the majority accept."
Prof Rustin, who has been at the hospital in Rickmansworth Road, Northwood, since 1984, and for a time also worked at Charing Cross Hospital, has dedicated himself to the Northwood hospital full time since1995.
The international clinical trials come in a variety of forms. Phase one, 'guinea pig' trials, are where treatments are used for the first time on humans. There are few of those at the hospital.
Patients are more likely to be pinvolved in phase two trials, where it is thought new treatments may be beneficial.
Up to 100 patients are tested to see how effective these treatments are, usually for tumour shrinkage.
The majority of trials at Mount Vernon, however, are phase three, where one treatment is compared with another in randomised trials.
Prof Rustin said: "There is evidence to show that people do better if they are in clinical trials and, very importantly,
because we do these at Mount Vernon, we attract the best staff, which benefits everyone.
"If the trials are cutting edge people are excited about that, and this is often the only way to access new and exciting drugs.
"We save £1m a year to the health authority by supplying free drugs through clinical trials, such as Avastin [bevacizumab] for bowel, breast and lung cancer, or sunitinib [Sutent] for kidney cancer."
Former patient, Brian Abbott, who co-ordinates the CCTR fundraising committee, said: "We have had a wonderful response but it is proving hard to raise the last vital £200,000 as everyone is very weary.
"We are mostly cancer patients who may not be the best fundraisers but it comes from the heart.
"I have been amazed at the bravery of people; some of the fundraisers have been very ill.
"Ann Clark, of Ruislip, who died recently, was so committed she used to come to fundraising meetings following her chemotherapy sessions.
"We are so near our target but we have used up all our sources.
"People have cycled from John O'Groats to Land's End, run the London Marathon and put on shows for us.
"We have been sent the odd £5 note, and one old lady wrote to ask if we could wait until she has paid her gas bill before she sent us a donation.
"The hospital has been under a cloud [of having its cancer services moved] for years, and at one time the buildings were falling apart.
"That has all cleared with this exercise - £25m of capital spend is a massive vote of confidence for the future."
The fundraising will have to continue, of course, even after the building is in use. It takes £350,000 a year to support the research team, but for now the brilliant team will be happy to get that last £200,000 - and hopes the community will rally round.
As Mr Abbott said: "When you get cancer, you think it's the end, but you come here and you decide it's not the end at all."
How you can help
[25a0] Prof Rustin and his fundraisers have appealed to Observer readers to help The Cancer Treatment and Research Trust win the race against time. [25a0] They have six months to find the money,to finish the job and ensure adequate funding for patient trials - which are saving lives - to continue at the hospital. [25a0] These trials,and other research carried out there, are vital not only for bringing hope to patients but for continuing to attract the cream of oncologists to the specialist cancer centre.
As Brian Abbott puts it: "One in three people are likely to develop cancer in their lives and I don't think people always realise how lucky they are to live in the Mount Vernon catchment area." [25a0] To donate or for more information, write to: Brian Abbott, CTRT Appeal, The Clock Tower,Mount Vernon Cancer Centre, Rickmansworth Road, Northwood HA6 2RN, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07758 739185. Cheques should be made payable to CTRT appeal. [25a0] Want to help out? Do some fundraising? Have a whip round at work? Let us know on 01895 451020 or email email@example.com