Proton centre can proceed

The UMCG has found a health insurer willing to cover proton therapy, a radiation therapy for cancer patients. Previously, insurers had expressed their doubts about the treatment’s added value.
By Peter Keizer / Translation by Sarah van Steenderen

The new centre for proton therapy, currently under construction on the north side of the UMCG property, plays a large role in the Center for Advanced Radiation Technology’s future plans. During the reorganisation a large number of employees were placed at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the new centre for proton therapy. That centre’s future was long uncertain, but now that at least one health insurer has come around, the proton therapy can finally be offered.

The teaching hospital has reached an agreement with De Friesland Zorgverzekeraar concerning the coverage of proton therapy. De Friesland is the first health insurer to sign up for the treatment method, which is new to the Netherlands.

What is proton therapy?

Proton therapy is a new type of radiation treatment for cancer patients. Radiation is done with protons (positively charged particles) instead of photons (electromagnetic energy waves), as in current radiation therapy. In proton therapy, the dose of radiation can be precisely aimed at a tumour, sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. This decreases the chance of side effects.

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For a long time, health insurers had their doubts about the added value of the treatment and refused to cover it. The effectiveness of the therapy has not been scientifically studied yet. Moreover, the existing, ‘normal’ photon therapy is becoming more and more advanced, and new developments have made it possible to apply proton therapy in existing radiation therapy centres, healthcare providers say.

In 2013, Public Health minister Schippers granted UMCG and three other hospitals – in Maastricht, Delft, and Amsterdam – a permit to build a proton centre. Insurance companies were none too pleased. According to them, one centre was sufficient. Due to cutbacks that were being carried out at the time, they felt that the 350 million euro in investment costs for the four centres was too much.


And, according to the insurers, there are fewer patients in need of proton therapy than the minister claims. Based on a study done by the Health Care Insurance Board (CVZ), Schippers assumed that there would be 2,200 patients a year. However, according to the health insurers, there are only 60 cancer patients that travel abroad to receive proton therapy every year. Therefore, the insurers would only approve of one centre, but the Authority for Consumers & Market rejected this.

UMCG now expects that more health insurers will soon start covering the proton therapy in Groningen, according to a press release. The teaching hospital expects to start treating its first patients with the new therapy in December of 2017.



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