AN extended cancer unit in Worcestershire could mean vital cancer services are saved, say health chiefs.

Bosses from NHS Worcestershire are expected to unveil a “radical” new draft cancer strategy later this month, which could mean head and neck cancer surgery continues in Worcester – but patients will have to wait a year to be sure the service is safe.

The document will be considered by bosses from NHS Worcestershire on Wednesday, January 20. The public will then be asked what they think with final proposals put in place in April next year.

They include an extended cancer unit in Worcestershire, which would be achieved though partnership between NHS Worcestershire, which holds the purse strings for healthcare in the county, and Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust, which runs the county’s three main hospitals.

There were fears head and neck cancer surgery would end at Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester if rivals Gloucester win the bid to host a new centre.

Worcestershire patients requiring treatment for cancer travel to Wolverhampton, Coventry or Cheltenham depending on where they live in the county. The proposals in the new draft strategy would involve much of this treatment being centralised and fewer people having to travel long distances. Where the unit would be based – in Worcester or the Alexandra Hospital, Redditch – has yet to be agreed. The cost of the project and what services will be provided are also under review.

Paul Bates, chief executive of NHS Worcestershire, said: “We will have to test out this strategy in light of the financial challenges ahead to make sure it is affordable. The choice of an out of county partner for some of the very specialised cancer care will obviously influence some of the surgical pathways including head and neck surgery. If the strategy is adopted then any decisions on head and neck will need to be taken in that context. It is unlikely we will be able to take any decision about head and neck cancer until after the full public consultation and the strategy has been adopted, which is likely to be towards the end of 2010.”

Throat cancer survivor, Paul Crawford, aged 68, of Highfield Close, Droitwich, who has led the fight to save head and neck cancer surgery in Worcestershire, said: “I am very happy about this. It is another battle won for us but it is early days.”

Professor Mike Richards, the Government cancer tsar, has said there should be a single surgical centre serving Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Gloucestershire for patients with head and neck cancer.

Rival bids were submitted to host the surgery by bosses at Worcestershire Royal Hospital in Worcester and Gloucestershire Royal Hospital in Gloucester, with Gloucester the preferred option at the moment. The final decision will be taken by the board of directors of the three primary care trusts in Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Herefordshire.

The date for this meeting has not been confirmed.