Royal Free doctor battles to build life-saving cancer unit in Africa

A former Royal Free Hospital consultant is battling to introduce a life-saving cancer unit for more than eight million people in Africa.

Professor Tony Wilson – who spent 25 years in the Royal Free’s neurology department – has traded Friday night sessions at the Magdala pub in Hampstead for seven-day weeks working in the cramped, stifling conditions of a Third World hospital.

The experience began as a one-off chance to share his expertise with medical students in a hospital in Uganda.

The 68-year-old now lives in the African country permanently and has set about transforming the facility and the lives of those who live in the once war-torn city of Mbarara.

He has introduced a nutritional programme to feed starving youngsters and helped secure funding to extend the Mbarara hospital with a modern, three-storey building.

However, Mr Wilson has set his sights on a specialist cancer unit, which will include chemotherapy treatment. It would be the only such facility outside of the capital city of Kampala, which is more than 250km away.

He has written to MP Justine Greening, secretary of state for the Department for International Development (DFID), appealing for funds to get the project up and running.

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Mr Wilson, who used to live a stone’s throw from the Royal Free Hospital, said: “It would create a whole viable service. Most people cannot afford to travel to the capital so they just go home to die. It would have a huge impact on people’s lives.”

A spokesman for DFID said the submission would have to be considered by the department’s local office in Uganda before being refereed to the secretary of state’s office in London.

Mr Wilson, professor of medicine at Mbarara University of Science and Technology, also has the day-to-day duties of the “coalface clinician” to contend with.

He treats endless cases of HIV, malaria and tuberculosis in a crowded hospital with just 20 per cent of the most basic drugs available to staff.

His former medical secretary at the Royal Free, Barbara Parker, who regularly visits him in Uganda, said the situation is “incomparable” to anything here.

“Patients are on the floor, under the beds and on split mattresses,” she said.

Prof Wilson, who spends his �500 a month salary on sponsoring children through school and other worthy causes, said: “The people there are wonderful, generous people and they literally have nothing.”