“There is new hope for patients diagnosed with cancer in the south of Portugal.”
This is how Loulé Council has described the official launch of a project to build an Oncology Centre in the Algarve by the end of 2024.
It is expected to tackle the serious lack of cancer care in the Algarve, particularly radiotherapy, which forces many patients to travel hundreds of kilometres to seek treatment in Lisbon or even Seville (in Spain).
The new health facility specifically aimed at cancer patients will be built near the long-promised Central Hospital at Parque das Cidades, near the Algarve Stadium, between Faro and Loulé.
The land has been provided by the councils of Loulé and Faro following the signing of a protocol with the Algarve university hospital centre (CHUA) on Thursday afternoon.
An international public tender for the construction of the Oncology Centre is due to be launched “very soon,” while CHUA administration board president Ana Varges Gomes has revealed the plan is to have it completed by the end of 2024.
Building and equipping the new health facility will cost €14 million – with €9 million due to be covered by the Algarve 2030 programme, which is providing the region with €780 million in community funding to spend on vital projects. The remainder will be covered by CHUA.
The Oncology Centre is due to bring all cancer-related care into one building, from diagnosing patients (nuclear medicine, pathological anatomy, cardiology or clinical pathology specialties) to treating them (radiotherapy, hyperbaric medicine, MRI and an operating room with a capacity for intraoperative radiation therapy).
“This is something that currently does not exist in the southern region (of Portugal),” said Ana Vargues Gomes, adding that research will also play a key role in the centre’s activity.
In fact, she believes that the Oncology Centre will also help attract more health professionals to the Algarve, adding that it will feature research labs and that teams of researchers from Portugal and abroad will be invited to join the centre’s efforts.
The centre will be located a stone’s throw away from the Algarve’s future Central Hospital, creating the possibility of connecting the two health facilities in the future.
The centre will also allow patients in need to remain hospitalised during their treatments, “without having to be moved around from one location to another.”
“There are many patients who have to travel, be it in their own vehicle or in an ambulance, to undergo their radiotherapy treatments every day from Monday to Friday. But with the Oncology Centre, they will be able to remain here,” Ana Varges Gomes added.
The time that will be saved diagnosing patients may eventually help “save lives,” she believes.
The centre will be able to treat between 2,000 to 3,000 new patients every year from the Algarve, Alentejo and even patients in need from Spain.
José Apolinário, president of the regional development commission CCDR Algarve, has stressed that this project – and the substantial investment it will require – are justified by the “need to correct inequalities in the access of cancer prevention and treatment in the region”.
Meanwhile, Loulé mayor Vítor Aleixo made it very clear that the agreement signed guarantees that the Oncology Centre will be managed by the National Health Service (SNS) and cannot be offered to other private entities.
And unlike the Central Hospital project which is “very dependent on the central government,” the Oncology Centre project is ready to move forward.
“There is financing, political will, and it only depends on regional entities,” Aleixo said.
The project has also been warmly welcomed in Faro.
“This Oncology Centre is something the Algarve in particular has needed for a long time,” mayor Rogério Bacalhau said.
While he praised the work that the Algarve Oncology Association (AOA) has carried out in the last 30 years to address the lack of cancer treatment resources in the region, he also stressed that “we have to go much further and today we are here taking this next step.
“With this facility, we will be much better off,” Bacalhau guaranteed.