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Vital cancer services are 'hollowed out', survey reveals

CANCER services are trying to deliver life-saving treatment whilst being starved of investment, a survey has revealed.

IPEM supported the survey by Action Radiotherapy, the UK’s leading radiotherapy charity, which revealed a shocking picture of a sector trying to deliver life-saving services whilst being starved of investment and with a workforce that has lost confidence in the government’s plans to tackle the cancer backlog and build a world leading cancer service for the future.

The survey results show services have been “hollowed out” as the UK faces the biggest cancer crisis in a generation and calls for urgent action to properly fund radiotherapy and address workforce concerns.

The Daily Telegraph and the Sunday Express have both covered the findings of the survey, which is also the subject of a special Catch Up With Cancer summit with parliamentarians.

Survey findings

The survey of the radiotherapy community revealed:

  • Some 97 per cent of respondents felt the current cancer backlog was either a serious or a very serious problem
  • 83 per cent of radiotherapy professionals said they saw an increase in the number of patients whose cancer had become incurable.
  • Fewer than 1 in 20 radiotherapy professionals felt they could meet the government's aim of running hospitals at 110 per cent pre-COVID capacity to tackle the backlog.
  • More than 75 per cent of respondents felt they could not even reach 100 per cent pre-COVID capacity
  • Some 65 per cent felt they did not have sufficient IT equipment to keep up with demand
  • 79 per cent of radiotherapy professionals reported they had considering leaving the sector

‘Hollowed out’

Professor Pat Price, Chair of Action Radiotherapy and co-founder of the Catch Up With Cancer Campaign, said: ‘This survey shows vital cancer services have been hollowed to the point of collapse. Years of underinvestment and poor planning have these vital cancer services on their knees.

‘People would be shocked to learn that radiotherapy treatments are internationally seen as a vital solution to the cancer backlog. And yet in the UK it has suffered from damaging commissioning and chronic under funding.

‘It is alarming and deeply frightening that as the country faces a massive cancer crisis our vital radiotherapy services are in this desperate situation. These results show just how badly investment in equipment, workforce and a proper plan is needed to tackle it.’

IPEM response

Nicky Whilde, Chair of IPEM’s Radiotherapy Professional Standards Panel said: ‘The results from the survey clearly demonstrate the concern within the radiotherapy workforce around the COVID-19 induced cancer backlog.

‘It confirms staff working in radiotherapy feel the service is misunderstood by government, and their work is under-valued. We want to demonstrate that, given the right and timely investment, radiotherapy could contribute greatly to reducing the cancer backlog. It has the advantage of being Covid safe, as for most forms of radiotherapy there is no clinical intervention.’

She added: ‘The two outstanding areas which need to be addressed to enable this to happen are around workforce shortages and investment in equipment.

‘Workforce shortages have been consistently at 9 – 10 per cent across all staff groups during the last decade and the survey shows this is likely to get worse. There are shortages of training places for both Clinical Scientists and clinical technologists and this needs to addressed as a matter of urgency.

‘IPEM has consistently supported calls for the introduction of ring-fenced central funding for radiotherapy machine replacement to establish a year-on-year modernisation and replacement programme and address the £140million backlog in machine replacement costs due to one fifth of England’s radiotherapy machines being over the 10-year recommended lifespan.’

Action Radiotherapy survey