NHS BOSSES fear a new private radiotherapy and chemotherapy centre could lure their staff away.

Private firm Cancer Partners UK has applied for permission to change an empty office at Beaumont House in Littlemore, Oxford, into a treatment centre.

But a senior doctor at Oxford’s Churchill Hospital warned it could hit NHS staffing levels.

Dr Claire Blessing, head of radiotherapy at the Churchill Hospital said: “In the last 10 years there has been a national shortage of staff to deliver the treatment.

“We have worked hard in Oxford to rectify that – but we have found it not possible to recruit a senior post for some time.

“In addition to that what hasn’t been noticed is that this is a chemotherapy centre as well. We offer a very good service – patients are treated within the national target.

“I think it’s useful to look at what has happened in the past. In Portsmouth they have lost at least seven or eight members of staff.”

The building is located at the entrance to the East Point Business Park in Sandy Lane West and has been empty since 2004, when it was occupied by Royal Mail for some of its administrative functions.

Cancer Partners UK is a company set up to build privately managed treatment and radiotherapy centres for patients around the country.

Patients are referred by their GP if they have private insurance or in some cases where they pay directly if they do not have insurance.

It has treatment centres in Portsmouth, Little Aston, Southampton, Elstree and Nottingham.

Chief executive Steve Bird said: “We recruit all our own staff. We are very mindful that we don’t come into a region to rid the NHS of its staff.”

Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist at Hammersmith Hospital and a medical director of Cancer Partners UK, said: “I think that staff poaching is a serious issue and we aim to employ staff from outside the region.

“We are the elephant in the room I guess – but we can work closely with NHS staff.”

The plans were discussed at an east area planning committee meeting at Oxford Town Hall on Tuesday.

The centre would employ 12 full time and between four and six part time staff as well as some consultants.

Nicola George, spokesman for Cancer Partners UK Ltd, said: “Our salaries are based on the NHS payscale and we won’t pay more to try to attract new staff.”

Councillor Roy Darke said while councillors had sympathy with what Dr Blessing said, they had a function to perform in terms of planning.

Further concerns were raised about the location of the planned centre and the lack of travel plan.

Councillor David Rundle added: “We may want to protect our NHS but the planning process is not the way to do that.

I’m concerned about the location and about the traffic implications.

“It is very noticeable how much pressure there is on parking. I have a general concern about the care of people going there because it is on a business park.”

Councillors deferred the planning decision while concerns about traffic and parking are further addressed.