Ashya treatment shines spotlight on proton therapy

Naghmeh King pictured with husband Brett after their release from prison. Picture: Getty
Naghmeh King pictured with husband Brett after their release from prison. Picture: Getty
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THE parents of a critically ill five-year-old boy who were jailed after taking him abroad for brain cancer treatment yesterday spoke of their son’s “miracle” recovery.

Brett and Naghmeh King said Ashya’s life was saved after he received innovative proton therapy treatment not available for him on the NHS.

“It is a miracle we thought we would never see”

Naghmeh King

The Proton Therapy Centre (PTC) in Prague, where he received the treatment last year, said it was “thrilled” to hear news that a recent scan showed no sign of a tumour.

The confirmation of Ashya’s progress has reignited the debate about the availability of proton therapy on the NHS. Under existing guidelines, ­patients in Scotland wishing to receive the treatment abroad are assessed on the basis of clinical need. If approved, they can receive NHS funding towards the therapy.

The boy’s parents, who sparked an international manhunt last summer by removing him from hospital in Southampton without medical consent, said the news was “incredible”.

Ms King said: “If we had left Ashya with the NHS in Britain, he would not be with us today. He was too weak and would not have survived.

“We could not sleep before we got this news – now we are so full of hope for the future. We are jumping up and down with joy. It is a miracle we thought we would never see.”

Ashya was finally allowed to undergo treatment at the PTC for brain cancer after a long legal battle by his parents and he has since been recovering in Spain.

Jana Kulhankova, marketing director at the centre, said she had not seen the latest scan but has been in regular contact with Ashya’s doctor, Hernan Cortes-Funes, since his treatment ended.

“Ashya’s doctor told me last week that Ashya is doing so well that he is able to release him for rehabilitation,” she said.

“If the scans are showing that Ashya is cancer-free, as Mr King says, than we are thrilled, that is what we have worked for.”

Mr King said his son’s condition justifies their actions in taking him from Southampton General Hospital last August to Spain, where they have a holiday home.

He said the treatment had saved Ashya’s life and added that they would do the same thing again if they felt they had to.

The Kings were arrested in Spain after fleeing the UK and spent several nights in prison away from their son. A High Court judge approved the move to take Ashya to Prague for proton therapy, which the PTC said is more effective than the radiotherapy Ashya was being offered on the NHS.

It limits the collateral damage of radiation to other vital organs, such as the heart and liver in Ashya’s case. This would lead to less severe long-term side-effects including heart and breathing problems. The centre said it has helped dozens of children recover from cancer. The therapy was not available for him on the NHS, although the health service later agreed to fund treatment.

The family, who have previously spoken of their apprehension over returning to the UK for fear social services would get involved, are staying in Marbella where Ashya will continue his recovery.

The UK government has pledged £250 million to build two new NHS proton beam centres. From 2018 it will be offered to up to 1,500 cancer patients a year at the Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester and University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.

A spokeswoman for NHS National Services Scotland said: “All patients who are considered for proton beam therapy are assessed by a Scottish multi­disciplinary panel. Where referral is agreed then they would be referred to the UK panel for a decision on treatment as part of the NHS scheme. The costs for treatment and travel are met by the NHS.”

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