Today’s report shows huge improvements in radiotherapy services are needed
For several years, Cancer Research UK has been calling on the government to invest in improvements to our radiotherapy services across the UK. At the National Cancer Research Institute conference this week, the Department of Health has published a report on radiotherapy services in England.
We’re really pleased – our Voice for Radiotherapy campaign urged the Government to publish an action plan to give an update since the last one was published 5 years ago. The report builds on the Prime Minister’s recent announcements on radiotherapy, and will hopefully help to drive progress across the service. For the very first time, this report allows us to use real-time data to compare services across England to see how well we’re doing.
It’s not a very pretty picture.
Huge improvements are needed if we are to ensure that the right patients are getting the right sort of radiotherapy. Over the next four years, activity must increase by two-thirds if it is to keep pace with the needs of UK patients. And much more of this should be advanced radiotherapy, such as intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT) – which targets treatment more closely to the tumour, sparing healthy tissue – and image guided radiotherapy (IGRT) – which tracks the tumour’s movements to ensure the radiation is hitting the right spot.
By 2016, we will need to double the number of linear accelerators (the machines that deliver radiotherapy), both to match increases in demand and to make sure some of the UK’s ageing machines are replaced on schedule.
Radiotherapy, the ‘forgotten hero’ of cancer treatment
David Cameron announced a new ‘radiotherapy innovation fund’ this week. He’s making £15million available to the NHS in England so that by April 2013, more cancer patients can benefit from advanced radiotherapy like intensity-modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).
The money has become available because the Government’s Cancer Drugs Fund - set up to make new cancer drugs available to patients who need them – is under budget.
So between now and April 2013, radiotherapy centres in England will be able to bid for this money to boost their services. The Prime Minister also guaranteed that from April all patients in England will always be able to access the radiotherapy treatments that their doctors think they need, including advanced radiotherapy such as IMRT or stereotactic radiosurgery, regardless of where they live.
This is fantastic news, for several reasons.
Today's radiotherapy report is a significant achievement
We often talk about radiotherapy as the unsung hero of cancer treatment – it helps cure more people than cancer drugs, yet few people think of it as a modern treatment.
That’s why we’re campaigning to improve radiotherapy services – more needs to be done to ensure that this cornerstone of cancer treatment is being used effectively across the country.
So we were particularly interested to see that the Government has published the first annual report of data about radiotherapy in the NHS.
We’ve written extensively before about the importance of collecting such data in order to improve cancer care.
The reason is simple – you can’t improve something if you don’t know how well it’s working in the first place.
Today’s report from the Department of Health focuses primarily on the not-insignificant achievement of collecting these data in the first place. But it also raises some important questions about variations in radiotherapy services and access to this vital treatment across the country.
The new interim Cancer Drug Fund should help patients get access to drugs
This morning, the Department of Health announced the details of a new ‘interim’ Cancer Drugs Fund.
This Fund is £50 million of ‘new money’ (or ‘additional in-year funding’, in Government speak) to be spent on drugs for cancer patients, to fill the gap between now and April next year when the official Cancer Drugs Fund will come into effect.
This money is intended to make sure that when a doctor wants to prescribe a specific drug for their patient, the people holding the purse strings at the local level in the NHS will have extra money to pay for it, regardless of whether the drug has been approved or not by NICE.
The Cancer Drugs Fund is the brainchild of new Secretary of State for Health Andrew Lansley, and was born out of the Conservative manifesto – and reiterated in both the Coalition Programme for Government and the recent Health White Paper Equity and Excellence: Liberating the NHS.
Originally this Fund was due to start from April next year and run until 2014 – when Government says it will introduce a brand new system of ‘value based’ drug pricing. This ‘interim’ Fund announced today is additional money to tide the country over until the ‘official’ Fund begins in April.
This new money is great news for people currently being treated for cancer. A recent Government report showed that fewer new cancer drugs were prescribed in the UK compared to other countries in Europe – possibly because of a lack of available funding.
But although the launch of the fund is good news, we still have a few questions about how it work in practice.
4 in ten patients who are cured receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment
There’s an important cancer treatment, which is widely available in the rest of Europe, that isn’t being offered to nearly as many patients in the UK as it should be.
But this isn’t an expensive new drug. We’re talking about radiotherapy – a cost-effective treatment that actually cures more patients than all the new drugs put together.
And it’s not just that the latest radiotherapy treatments aren’t available. Research published last year shows that tens of thousands of people in the UK who should be getting radiotherapy as part of their treatment, simply aren’t.
So why are patients missing out?
We want the next government to provide access to world class treatments
Cancer Research UK’s ‘Commit to Beat Cancer’ campaign calls on parliamentary candidates to pledge to keep cancer high on the political agenda.
Previously, we took a look at how the Government can protect the UK’s science base.
In this next instalment, Hilary Tovey, Cancer Research UK’s policy manager, explains why all parties should be investing in world class cancer treatments for patients in the NHS.
The UK is a world leader in cancer research. There are currently hundreds of new cancer drugs in development; 44 radiotherapy trials are currently listed on our CancerHelp UK trials database; and recent advances in specialised surgery have improved survival and reduced hospital stays for patients.
But despite these successes, there’s still a long way to go.
We need to make sure that cancer patients across the UK are getting access to the best possible treatment for their disease. This means ensuring that innovative new treatments are rolled out to patients as soon as possible.
We believe there are four areas the next Government needs to focus on to achieve this.
A new pricing scheme should lead to cheaper cancer drugs
With the New Year upon us and the sound of cash registers still ringing in our ears from Christmas, the nation is tightening its belt to ride out the difficult financial times ahead.
For their part, the UK Government has reached an agreement with the pharmaceutical industry that should help ensure that an ever cash-limited NHS will be able to continue provide the best possible drugs to patients.