Following a Freedom of Information request, the Daily Telegraph reports that the radiotherapy machines used by many NHS Trusts are now over ten years old. One in five of the 49 NHS radiotherapy centres reported using machines that cannot deliver the latest life-saving cancer treatments and which experts describe as "worryingly" outdated. A number of trusts are unable to offer patients 4D scans to monitor tumours and to tailor radiation therapy accordingly.
Modern treatment techniques include Image Guided Radiotherapy which tracks the movement of some cancers, enabling more precise targeting of therapy. Over a third of the NHS's radiotherapy machines cannot deliver this and more than half the machines are incapable of short, high-dose stereotactic ablative radiotherapy used to treat brain tumours. These statistics come on the back of recent NHS England reports that money is being diverted from radiotherapy to fund overspending in the drugs budget and that waiting times for diagnosis and treatment are getting longer.
The lack of availability of these potentially life-saving therapies is clearly of significant concern. Modern techniques not only offer more targeted therapy but they also have the potential to reduce the unnecessary side-effects that radiotherapy patients suffer from older methods.
Andrew Clayton of Penningtons Manches' clinical negligence team explains: "We know from long experience that our clients who suffer delays in diagnosis and treatment of cancer face a bleaker future than those who are treated early and with effective therapies. There have been significant advances in recent years in recognising and treating the early signs and symptoms of many cancers. Those advances risk being undermined if the NHS fails to keep pace with modern treatment options.
"Patients with cancer should not have to endure the significant and intrusive side effects that can be avoided or reduced with modern techniques. Neither should their quality of treatment and prospect of a good outcome be affected by their local hospital’s resources. All patients should have access to the same treatment – particularly as investing in those techniques could lead to significant savings in the wider NHS by improved outcomes."