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Ashya’s doctors defend their role

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt offers to send brain cancer specialist to Spain to advise parents

Mark Gould

Wednesday, 03 September 2014

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt has offered to send an independent oncologist to Spain to advise the parents of five-year-old Ashya King on his best treatment options.

Ashya and his parents sparked an international police hunt when he was taken without medical consent from Southampton General Hospital following the successful removal of a brain tumour.

Doctors feared for Ashya's wellbeing as he is fed by nasogastric tube. Ashya was taken by his family to Spain following a dispute with clinicians as to whether proton beam therapy would be appropriate follow-up treatment to prevent a tumour recurring. Mr and Mrs King were subsequently arrested and briefly detained in Madrid while Ashya was being cared for at a children's hospital in Malaga. Now preparations are being made for the family's return to the UK, Mr Hunt has offered specialist independent help.

He said: "The NHS does fund proton beam therapy for children who need it. It’s not always appropriate, it’s not always safe. But we are arranging for an independent expert, one of our top oncologists, to fly to Spain, if the family would like, to give them advice as to exactly what the right course of action is for Ashya going forward."

Commenting on how the University Hospitals Southampton Foundation Trust handled things, Mr Hunt continued: "I think it has been a very unfortunate sequence of events and there have clearly been misunderstandings along the way. Right now what we want to focus on is getting the right treatment for Ashya and I hope we have a good resolution in place where they can get independent advice that they can trust and most importantly Ashya gets the right treatment for the situation he is in."

Meanwhile the Trust has also explained its role and why it contacted the police. The Trust says Ashya was treated successfully for a medulloblastoma, which was successfully removed in July and recommended for radiotherapy and chemotherapy within four to six weeks of surgery which would improve his chances of survival to between 70- 80%. During discussions, Ashya’s family indicated that they wished him to undergo proton radiotherapy instead of standard radiotherapy.

"This option was explored with the family and they were informed that in Ashya’s case there is likely to be no difference in survival between standard radiotherapy and proton radiotherapy and overall no proven significant benefit. Therefore, the Trust considers there is no benefit to Ashya of proton radiotherapy over standard radiotherapy. This view is supported by a national independent expert body."

Despite this, the Trust agreed with the family to refer Ashya for proton radiotherapy in the Czech Republic, as the family had indicated that they could fund it privately.

On 28 August 2014, during an unsupervised walk in the hospital grounds, the Trust says Ashya’s family chose to remove him without informing or seeking the consent of medical staff.

The Trust said it was concerned for Ashya’s safety given his reliance on a nasogastric feeding and his need for further treatment and contacted the police, to alert them to the situation.

Responding to the news that Ashya could still be offered proton treatment in Prague a spokesperson for the Trust said: “We are aware of the comments made about Ashya’s treatment by the Proton Therapy Centre in Prague.

“While Ashya was under our care, we discussed the option of treatment in this centre with the family and made contact with them at that point. 

“We were willing to support the family’s transfer to Prague for proton beam radiotherapy, although we did not recommend it. The Proton Therapy Centre has been in touch again yesterday afternoon to enquire about Ashya’s potential future care and confirm that they would be keen to treat him if he is suitable according to the relevant criteria. 

“We have of course been open to discussing this, however, since Ashya is a ward of court, at this stage it is for a judge to make all future decisions regarding his treatment. The decision to apply for ward of court was made by Portsmouth City Council with our support and on the advice of Hampshire Police.”

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