IPEM responds to Guardian article on AI in radiotherapy


A STORY about the use of artificial intelligence in radiotherapy treatment of patients failed to mention the role of medical physicists.

The Guardian newspaper ran a story about nine technologies being approved by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to carry out external beam radiotherapy in lung, prostate and colorectal cancers.

However, it failed to mention the crucial role played by clinical scientists or clinical technologists, prompting a response from IPEM.

Letter for publication

Dr Robert Farley, IPEM’s President, wrote a letter for publication to the Guardian:

‘It is extremely beneficial to utilise professional knowledge to indicate the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI) in healthcare. However, I was disappointed there was no mention of clinical scientists or clinical technologists, who operate within the healthcare setting as medical physics healthcare scientists. These NHS staff are the ‘invisible army’ behind safe and effective cancer treatments and diagnostic imaging, including radiotherapy.  

‘Many clinical scientists and technologists have been directly involved in the development, validation and commissioning of the AI platforms discussed in the article and participated in producing this NICE guidance. Without the input of clinical scientists and technologists, we would not be in the position we are today, and AI technology would not yet be ready to be implemented into routine healthcare. 

‘Clinical scientists will be at the centre of the implementation of these systems, ensuring that the new technologies perform as intended and ensuring the continued safe delivery of state-of-the-art radiotherapy in the NHS. 

‘Once the new technologies are commissioned and brought into clinical use, clinical scientists and technologists in radiotherapy will continue to utilise the AI technology, particularly in the outlining of sensitive organs and treatment targets on digital images, which is a significant component of their role in radiotherapy treatment planning.  

‘Radiographers, clinicians and radiologists certainly have a key part to play, however, it is medical physicists who ultimately are working tirelessly, despite significant staff shortages, to ensure that the new systems and thus the future of AI is implemented and utilised safely into the NHS.’

Consultation response

In addition, NICE had launched a consultation on the use of AI technologies to aid contouring for radiotherapy treatment planning. IPEM’s AI working party led on preparing a response to this, with input from members of the Radiotherapy Professional Standards Panel.

The outcome of this early value assessment is expected to be published towards the end of September.