Accessing radiotherapy – why it matters

By Charlie Smoothy

If you had cancer, how far would you be willing to travel for radiotherapy? The general NHS England consensus has previously been 45 minutes, however in reality, it is not unusual for people across the country regularly have to make six-hour round trips for treatment.

When treatment already takes its toll, why are we making people travel in some cases hundreds of miles, often on public transport for life saving radiotherapy?

I attended Tim Farron’s Westminster Hall debate: Patient travel times for cancer treatment, where all of the MPs in attendance agreed that we should not be making people travel such long distances. MPs from across the country spoke about their constituent’s experiences and none had positive stories to tell.

The debate was called partly in response to the current open Department of Health consultation, Modernising Radiotherapy; and we are working with private cancer treatment provider GenesisCare on their response. The consultation is looking to centralise services in hubs, removing the ability of smaller centres to treat all patient ages and types of cancer.

Mark Lomax, Chief Executive of GenesisCare said:

“It is incredibly important that patients do not have to travel for extended periods of time for radiotherapy. Specialist care can be provided in local centres, GenesisCare is proof of this, and we are looking to work with NHSE to improve the experience of those needing radiotherapy to treat their cancer.”

The consultation falls in line with NHSE’s announcement that it will be investing £130m in radiotherapy equipment, which aims to deliver the vision for radiotherapy which was published in 2014 with Cancer Research UK:

“All patients will receive advanced and innovative radiotherapy that has been shown to be clinically and cost effective. Radiotherapy will provide patients with substantially improved outcomes, higher cure rates, and fewer side effects from their treatment.”

There have been numerous studies and reports, including by Age UK, Macmillan and scientists publishing in the BMJ that have found shorter travel times lead to improved outcomes for patients. GenesisCare believe that patients should not have to travel hours for first class service, and reiterate the widely-held belief that outcomes are better when patients have a support network around them.

The Modernising Radiotherapy consultation closes on 24 January, and Tim Farron’s Private Member’s Bill, Access to Radiotherapy has its second reading in May 2018. ZPB will be monitoring NHS England and the Department of Health’s response to the consultation, email us for more information.