Six point plan to transform radiotherapy services

A SIX point plan to transform radiotherapy services and save thousands of lives from the cancer backlog caused by the Covid-19 pandemic has been launched.

Experts including cancer specialists, radiotherapy professionals, charities and industry have endorsed a plan from MPs to rapidly transform radiotherapy services and save thousands of lives from being unnecessarily lost to the cancer backlog.

The six point plan has been launched by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Radiotherapy (APPGRT).

Professor Pat Price, Chair of Action Radiotherapy, founder of Radiotherapy4Life and advisor to the APPGRT, said: ‘Thousands of lives are at stake. The radiotherapy community is pleading with the Government to take action, recognise the severity of the situation and seize this opportunity to rapidly boost our cancer fighting capacity.

‘Here is a plan which clearly sets out the problem, and crucially, the solution. There is no more time for bureaucracy because Covid has so frighteningly exposed the deficiencies in cancer services. Lifesaving radiotherapy treatments must be a key part of the cancer recovery plan. Not the afterthought they have been for so many years. This report paves the way for delivering world class radiotherapy and dealing with the predicted surge in demand on our cancer services.’

Global comparisons and leading experts are increasingly recommending radiotherapy treatments are at the heart of any cancer recovery plan. With a 60 per cent drop in referrals and 20 per cent drop in the start of treatments, there is a wave of demand anticipated to hit the NHS after the summer. Before the pandemic radiotherapy was needed by 1 in 4 people at some point in their lives, required by 50 per cent of cancer patients and used in 40 per cent of cancer cures. Unlike many treatments disrupted by the pandemic, radiotherapy does not need intensive care capacity like surgery, and it does not have the impact on immunity often associated with chemotherapy.

It is relatively inexpensive compared to other cancer treatments and in recent years the technology used in treatments has rapidly advanced. Years of chronic under-investment and sub-optimal central commissioning, however, have left radiotherapy at a massive disadvantage with little of this improved technology actually deployed in the NHS. The APPGRT have reported on the simple, smart and cost effective changes which would allow services to rapidly catch up and even surpass international comparisons.

The six point plan aims to go to the heart of concerns that a lack of leadership from NHS England may result in the failure to take the necessary steps to gear up cancer services in anticipation of this predicted surge in demand. The plan recommends the following:

1.    Create a national task force: Appoint a radiotherapy minister and Tsar to form a national task force of medical and industry professionals to ensure all available solutions used in other countries are introduced in the UK.

2.    Introduce IT and network solutions.

3.    Replace out of date machines.

4.    Increase the workforce.

5.    Increase access to radiotherapy.

6.    Raise the profile of radiotherapy.

Tim Farron MP, Chair of the APPGRT, said: ‘Radiotherapy services have been the silent lifesaver in this country for so long and have suffered a damaging lack of planning because of that low profile. This report outlines how we can turn this around, transform services and rapidly make up for years of under-investment.

‘Cancer survival rates in the UK have been amongst the worst in Europe for years. We absolutely need a plan if we are to avoid a national tragedy brought about by the cancer backlog. We can no longer make excuses for not delivering smart changes which will boost radiotherapy to become a key pillar in our cancer recovery plan. We have an opportunity to transform our radiotherapy services, boost cancer survival rates and save lives from the disruption to services caused by Covid.’

Grahame Morris MP, Vice-Chair of the APPGRT, added: ‘Radiotherapy has been a Cinderella service for too long, marginalised compared to other treatments, despite being one of the best and most curative cancer treatments available. People should not be travelling hours for treatment and they should have access to new life saving equipment. These are smart and sensible solutions which will allow us to rapidly turn the service into one of the best in the world and most importantly save many lives from the cancer backlog.'

APPGRT Six Point Plan