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

August 30, 2019 12:08 PM

A cross-party group of backbench MPs today released a report that found the provision of radiotherapy 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 three-month long inquiry led by local MP Tim Farron.

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. 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.

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, who is the chair of the APPGRT said: "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 increase, 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 The Government must act swiftly to increase funding and reform outdated commissioning processes"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."