Thank you for contacting me about radiotherapy and CatchUpWithCancer.
At the end of this post, I have added a summary of the main points of the Government's response to the vital issues raised by the CatchUpWithCancer campaign and cancer charities.
Cancer remains a high priority for the Government and despite survival rates being at a record high, too many people continue to die from it, leaving many devastated by the loss of loved ones. In the past decade, rates of survival from cancer have increased year-on-year. Around 7,000 people are alive today who would not have been had mortality rates stayed the same as then.
The NHS Long Term Plan (LTP), published during 2019, outlined a number of new measures for catching cancer early and providing treatment, with the aim that from 2028, 55,000 more people each year will survive their cancer for at least five years after diagnosis.
One of the measures outlined in the plan is safer and more precise treatment, including advanced radiotherapy techniques and immunotherapies to continue to support improvements in survival rates.
This will be supported by a £130 million upgrade of radiotherapy machines across England, including £32 million to replace 17 Linear Accelerators aged over 10 years by the end of March 2022, as well as commissioning the NHS new state-of-the-art Proton Beam facilities in London and Manchester.
In addition, the LTP commits to reforms to the specialised commissioning payments for radiotherapy hypofractionation to support further equipment upgrades. Faster, smarter and more effective radiotherapy, supported by greater networking of specialised expertise, will mean more patients are offered curative treatment, with fewer side effects and shorter treatment times.
Starting with ovarian cancer, the NHS will ensure greater access to specialist expertise and knowledge in the treatment of cancers where there are fewer or more risky treatment options.
I hope that this provides reassurance that providing adequate support for a widely used and effective treatment for cancer is absolutely a priority for the Department of Health and Social Care and across the NHS.
Any constituents with concerns about their own care and who feel that I might be able to help by making enquiries or representations on their behalf should contact my office to see if we can raise those concerns as individual cases.
Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.
Craig Whittaker MP
Through the Spending Review 2020, £32 million investment was made available to support the replacement of radiotherapy equipment in 2021-22.
With regards to waiting lists, as part of new funding announced in September and the Spending Review 2021, the Government pledged to produce an elective recovery plan to set out how it will reduce the backlog of cancer treatment and other operations that has built up during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The elective recovery plan was expected to be published towards the end of 2021 but was delayed due to the priority of rolling out the Covid-19 booster vaccine.
In response to a written parliamentary question by Tim Farron MP about what steps the Government had to reduce the number of visits needed to complete a full course of radiotherapy treatment, Maria Caulfield MP (Minister for Primary Care and Mental Health) responded as follows:
“Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which can be delivered over fewer treatments than standard radiotherapy, is now available as a treatment for lung cancer patients in every radiotherapy provider. Over 3,600 patients benefited from this treatment in 2020-21 and work is ongoing to complete the SABR expansion programme.”
On workforce, Health Education England’s Cancer Workforce Plan committed to expanding capacity and skills across six professions by 2021, including clinical radiology.
In response to the debate, Maria Caulfield MP (Minister for Patient Safety and Primary Care) highlighted that there were current pressures in diagnostics that were contributing to the backlog of cancer treatment. The Minister added that she would be happy to meet with MPs about the provision of radiotherapy services in their areas.
Furthermore, the Minister said that NHS England was seeking to improve collaboration between radiotherapy providers through the roll-out of a cloud-based technology called ProKnow. On workforce, she noted that since August 2020, there were now an additional 4 per cent of Doctors working in clinical oncology and 5 per cent working in radiology.