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Sunday 3rd November 2019 and Sunday 15th September 2019

Radiotherapy cancer treatment provision falling “woefully short” as 20,000 missing out, MPs say

Friday 30th August 2019

Radiotherapy cancer treatment provision falling “woefully short” as 20,000 missing out, MPs say

A cross-party group of backbench MPs today released a report1 that found the provision of radiotherapy2 services was so poor that is many as 20,000 people a year are missing out on the cancer treatment they need – treatment that, in many cases, would have saved their life.

The report, titled Radiotherapy – Securing the Future of Britain’s Secret Lifesaver, was produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Radiotherapy(APPGRT) following a 3 month long inquiry which the gathering of oral and written evidence. The APPGRT is chaired by Tim Farron MP.

The all-party group were concerned that NHS England had presented evidence in a “misleading” way in order to explain away the 20,000 patient shortfall accepted by the wider academic and medical community.3 The report calls for “urgent reform and significant increased investment” to redress the current situation, which sees radiotherapy services lose out to other, more high-profile cancer treatments.4

The report details testimony of NHS practitioners currently involved in radiotherapy service provision, one of whom felt she had been left in a “morally repugnant” position by NHS commissioning systems which were forcing her to choose between the financial outcomes of her Trust and offering patients the best treatment for their cancer. It is also claimed that NHS England were unable to provide a satisfactory justification for restricting commissioning of the advanced radiotherapy technique Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy(SABR) to less than half of the NHS Trusts which provide radiotherapy, despite many more having the equipment to provide the treatment.

Tim Farron MP, Chair of the APPGRT, commented on the report’s release: “I am pleased to be able to present the findings of inquiry in this report, which is the culmination of months of hard work on the part of all of those involved. But it gives our Group no pleasure to find that so many who need radiotherapy aren’t getting it. As is often the case, it is those with the quietest voice who are being so badly let down by their government. But, with demand for radiotherapy services scheduled to increase5, and in the absence of urgent investment, this secret scandal will become painfully public. The Government must act swiftly to increase funding and reform outdated commissioning processes”

Dr Peter Kirkbride, spokesperson for the Radiotherapy4Life campaign group, commented on the report’s findings: “Having formerly been chairman of the government’s radiotherapy clinical reference group, I have seen first-hand different ways in which radiotherapy services are overlooked within the NHS and more widely within government. This report accords with that perspective, but also reveals worrying information about the scale of this crisis and the human toll it is having.”

 

Editors notes:

1. Full report found here: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/4fcdc3_bd0f7f4ffeb84dd384a7f115914c0000.pdf?index=true

 

2. Radiotherapy is a treatment used to kill cancer cells through aiming high-energy radiation at the tumour. Unlike chemotherapy, which impacts the entire body with chemicals, modern radiotherapy is accurate to within millimetres, limiting damage to healthy cells around the cancer. This makes radiotherapy useful for treating cancers in areas vulnerable to damage, allowing effective treatment of cancers that would be practicably untreatable through surgery or chemotherapy. There have been major breakthroughs in radiotherapy in the last 10 years with modern advanced radiotherapy being more precise, curing more patients and producing fewer side effects.

3. Unlike chemotherapy, radiotherapy is often delivered over a period of 4 – 6 weeks, with patients attending hospital daily to receive a ‘fraction’. Because of the extended treatment period, travels times have a “direct and statistically significant effect” on a patients ability to access the radiotherapy, the report found, and regional variations in travel times were seen to be a key determinant in explain the shortfall. NHS England were also found to have been relying on select evidence for their claims that travel times had no effect on treatment access, ignoring a body of international work that shows a clear correlation.

4. The NHS currently spends around 5%( in the region of £400 million per year) of its cancer budget on the provision of radiotherapy services; whereas in many high income countries in Europe, that figure is at or above 10%. This compares with the cost of just one cancer drug used in one indication for breast cancer: the NHS adjuvant Herceptin budget (a drug used to treat 15–20% of breast cancer patients) is £160 million a year.

 

5. The NHS Long Term Plan anticipates a considerable increase in early diagnosis in the coming 10 year period. Typically, the earlier a cancer is diagnosed the more likely it is that radiotherapy will be the most appropriate treatment.

House of Commons Debate

Thursday 18th July 2019

Following the ongoing Radiotherapy4Life campaign, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Radiotherapy (APPG-RT) have been successful in raising a voteable debate in the House of Commons on Radiotherapy which was held yesterday afternoon (Thursday 18th July 2019). This can be re-watched by clicking the link below which will take you to our APPG Video Hub. The Radiotherapy motion was passed. The next step is for the APPG MPs is to meet with the Cancer Minister to progress the issues raised.

The Society of Radiographers have published their response to yesterday's House of Commons debate. 

Parliamentary written and oral questions

The links below point to external Government websites detailing both oral and written questions regarding radiotherapy from members of Parliament to The Government.

Radiotherapy4Life Campaign Launch

Monday 29th April 2019

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