History of The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre

In the beginning…

In 1862 James Seaton Smythe, a prominent surgeon, set up the Liverpool Hospital for Cancer and Diseases of the Skin.

Seven years later he bequeathed the hospital £10,000. This was the first of many legacies, which still support our work in caring for cancer patients and helping to pioneer research into the disease – searching for both the cause and the cure.

In 1882 the hospital moved to a new site in Liverpool and was renamed The Radium Institute. The first Roentgen ray apparatus was bought in 1901 and the Centre became one of two major radiotherapy centres in the North West.

The decision was taken to move the services out of Liverpool city centre in the 1950’s. The Radium Institute, renamed the Liverpool Clinic, became the Regional Centre for Nuclear Medicine, and the new Regional Radiotherapy Centre was opened in March 1958 at Clatterbridge on the Wirral.

Phase 1 (1958 to 1962)

Clatterbridge Hospital West - Radiotherapy Unit consisted of a purpose-built treatment unit containing the Mullard 4 Mev linear accelerator, three wards, an operating theatre, a physics workshop, mould room and medical records office. The linear accelerator was up and running by early 1959 and treated between 60 and 80 patients a day.

The three wards, Dee, Weaver and Mersey - containing 70 beds and were housed in converted military huts along with other services such as the theatre, the outpatients’ clinic, scientific and technical services and secretarial support.

Phase 2 (1962 to 1970)

By 1962 two further buildings had been turned into hostel wards. There were now 121 beds, with 15 hostel beds in Clatterbridge main hospital. During this phase the physics workshop and the mould room were improved, and a radium store and medical photographic unit were opened in adapted huts.

New equipment provided deep and superficial x-ray treatment sets. Demand for radiotherapy increased rapidly and, with up to 90 patients a day being treated on the linear accelerator, a shift system of working had to be introduced.

In 1966 a second complete treatment unit with a new linear accelerator was installed and treatments began at the start of 1968. This was followed shortly after by the addition of two Cobalt units, as well as planning and dose calculation rooms.

Phase 3 (1970 to 1990)

July 1970 saw the completion of the new extensions.

New facilities included two more wards, an outpatients’ department, a medical records department and the Cancer Registry, (one of the most comprehensive in the country).

Computerisation for radiotherapy dose calculation was now recognised as invaluable and the hospital developed its own computer – which filled an entire room!

By 1974 new, purpose-built wards had replaced most of the old huts. A new theatre and a Clinical Research Unit were among other additions. This was the first time that all clinical radiotherapy services for the Mersey Region were under one roof. The first modern simulator also arrived that year - and another would follow ten years later.

The Centre also changed its name - to the Mersey Regional Centre for Radiotherapy and Oncology.

But by the late 1970s, the unit needed to expand again to meet increasing patient numbers and accommodate new treatment techniques. The Mullard 6 was replaced with a Phillips SL75-14 accelerator and a Dynaray 4 accelerator was also installed.

By 1980 the unit contained three accelerators and one Cobalt unit, plus simulator and imaging services. The decision was made to replace the use of traditional radium with a remote Caesium afterloading system. The first low dose rate Selectron was installed in 1981 with the second in 1982.

Large-scale expansion occurred between1984 and 1987: Two new bunkers, four new accelerators and a new imaging facility – plus a CT scanner, Cyclotron and Gamma camera.

By the 1990s Clatterbridge had five accelerators, two simulators, CT, Gamma camera and MRI with all services housed in purpose-built accommodation. New dose calculation computer facilities were added, capable of multi-plane calculation.

Government changes to the NHS saw the unit become a Trust in 1992. The Centre installed a high dose Selectron that provided even greater benefits for patients by reducing treatment times still further.

Consultant staff also started clinics in over 23 locations across the region.

Where are we today?

With 1,575 specialist staff and three sites, we are now one of the largest NHS providers of non-surgical cancer treatment.

The Trust has a unique multi-site care model serving the 2.4 million population across Cheshire and Merseyside and is consistently rated by patients as one of the best performing hospitals.

In June 2020 we opened Clatterbridge Cancer Centre - Liverpool. The state-of-the-art 11-storey building delivers a wide range of highly-specialist care including pioneering chemotherapy, immunotherapy, bone marrow transplant, gene therapy and radiotherapy. The services also include diagnostics and imaging, outpatients, daycase treatments, a Teenage & Young Adult Unit, clinical therapies, and a wide range of cancer information and support. The new hospital is based in the heart of Liverpool’s Knowledge Quarter and will enable us to expand our cancer research programme alongside our academic partner, the University of Liverpool.

We continue to provide outpatient radiotherapy, chemotherapy, diagnostic and support services at Clatterbridge Cancer Centre - Wirral.