Building the UK’s first ever high energy proton beam therapy centre


Proton beam therapy is a specialist form of radiotherapy, used to precisely target certain cancers. It increases success rates and reduces side effects.

The treatment works using protons, positively charged particles that are accelerated to two thirds the speed of light to produce a high-energy beam.

Currently, this treatment is only available to UK patients if they travel overseas. But that is about to change. Interserve is building the UK’s first high energy proton beam therapy centre for The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester.

The contract was procured under the ProCure21+ framework. We are currently about half way through constructing the four concrete treatment rooms, one of which will be used for research and development.


With the project being a UK first, some of the project team went to America and Poland in the very early stages to see operational proton beam facilities and meet with contractors and clinicians to learn more about the challenges involved in this type of project. This enabled us to gain a better understanding of what is required in the design and delivery of such a facility.

We will be pouring 17,000m3 of concrete over twelve months to house the four treatment rooms and the particle accelerator. The ‘cyclotron’, as the accelerator is known, is the size of a big car and weighs the same as a Boeing 747 jet. The next phase will see three steel structures, each weighing about 180 tonnes built. This requires a space as tall as a three-storey house to allow the proton beams to move around the patient at a 360-degree angle.


The centre has been designed to Building Information Modelling (BIM) Level 2 standard, which shows that we are working collaboratively with the client and supply chain to design the building efficiently.

The highest risk of failure of the treatment rooms and cyclotron is early age thermal cracking of the concrete. For this reason, it was essential to collaborate with the concrete supplier early on in the project, to make sure that they could not only provide the quantity, but the quality that we require to minimise the risk of cracking.

It was also crucial to work with radiation protection advisers from the beginning, as well as concrete installers. Every piece of concrete, which has to have a specific density has to lock together securely in order to prevent radiation leakage. A test concrete pour was carried out close to the site at the concrete installer’s premises. If there had been more than a 30-degree difference in temperature between the surface of the concrete and the core, then the concrete would be at risk of cracking. But the results were good and the test was important to guarantee that the concrete pours are successful first time, which helps with accurate project scheduling.

This time next year, the treatment rooms will be ready to install the specialist equipment. Check back here for updates on this project as we progress with the UK’s first ever high energy proton beam therapy centre.

You can also watch a video, filmed on-site, about the project so far.

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Phil Shaw

Phil Shaw is an associate director, Northwest Construction, Interserve.