The Duke of Cambridge has acknowledged the “challenging” impact of coronavirus on cancer treatment, as he launched the construction of a £70 million centre to combat the disease.
William’s comments came during a visit to the Royal Marsden’s south London hospital to lay the foundation stone of the Oak Cancer Centre, a research and treatment facility.
In a speech during the ceremony in Sutton, the duke sounded a positive note, saying that despite the Covid-19 outbreak “there remains hope for the many thousands of people dealing with the effects of cancer”.
Cancer care has been severely affected by coronavirus, with one in three people living with the disease saying they have faced delays to treatment, diagnosis or missed appointments due to the pandemic, according to Cancer Research UK.
During his speech William said: “But before the official ground-breaking moment, I want to pause and acknowledge the unimaginable challenges that all those at the Marsden have faced this year.
“The knock-on effects of coronavirus have been felt widely, but the impact on cancer treatment for patients up and down the country has been one of the most acute and challenging.”
William also launched the Royal Marsden’s public appeal to raise the final millions required to build the centre.
The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity has so far raised almost £62 million of the £70 million needed to complete the Oak Cancer Centre.
It is due to open to patients in 2022 and will provide a state-of-the-art research and treatment facility for 400 researchers under the same roof as those receiving treatment.
William went on to say in his speech: “Despite the challenging times we are living in, it is so important we take the time to acknowledge the tremendous work that continues all around us.
“And that irrespective of the global pandemic, there remains hope for the many thousands of people dealing with the effects of cancer.”
In 2007 William became president of the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, which specialises in cancer diagnosis, treatment and research, and followed in the footsteps of his mother Diana, Princess of Wales, who held the same position from 1989 until her death in 1997.
The duke’s visit came 30 years after Diana laid a ceremonial foundation stone to commemorate the building of the Chelsea Wing at the Royal Marsden’s other hospital in Chelsea, London.
During his visit William met some young cancer patients including Lily Smith, 15, who was diagnosed in July 2019 after she showed her mother a large lump on her collar bone.
Her mother, Natalie Baxter, 48, a police officer, said they went in for tests, and assumed they would go home again that night. Instead Lily spent the next week in hospital.
The teenager added: “Before we were told there was a possibility that I might have cancer, we were going to go home. It was, ‘What do you want for dinner?’ ‘Yeah, pizza, just stick on Love Island.’”
The police officer joked that William might not be a fan of the reality TV show: “He laughed, and I think he fancied the pizza, but not Love Island. He said, ‘We won’t go there.’”
Professor James Larkin, consultant medical oncologist, said the new centre was needed to bring researchers and clinicians together: “My goal would be that in 15 years’ time, as a consequence of research undertaken in the Oak Centre Centre, I can say to my patients that we have effective therapies to stop cancer spreading in the first place.
“And if it were to spread, that I can realistically talk about cure for the majority of patients.”
At the end of the speeches the duke took a trowel to do the pointing for the foundation stone.
James Davies, operations director for contractors ISG, said: “I told him he wouldn’t make a bricklayer. He agreed!”
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