The government needs to take urgent steps to protect cancer patients, maintain patient access to vital treatments as well as the safety and operational integrity of the highly skilled radiotherapy cancer workforce teams in specialist centre Grahame Morris MP
As Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Radiotherapy, Grahame Morris MP has joined MPs and cancer experts in calling on the Government to commission a major rethink of cancer care, particularly radiotherapy, amid the coronavirus crisis.
Radiotherapy is already one of the most widely used cancer treatments, being a major factor in 4 out of 10 cancer cures. The demand for radiotherapy is set to increase further, as surgical resources are redeployed in the effort to combat coronavirus, and chemotherapy is considered less favourable as it results in immuno-suppression in patients who receive it.
As such, the government need to take vital steps in order to protect the NHS cancer workforce and those patients currently undergoing treatment. The key areas of concern are:
1. Personal protective equipment (PPE) and Testing
The practical reality of administering radiotherapy to cancer patients involves close contact between the medical professional administering treatment, and the individual receiving it. Cancer patients are at risk of developing serious complications should they contract the virus as a result of such close contact. However, the consequences of specialists themselves being infected are also extremely concerning, as there are only a limited cohort of around 5,000 specialists who are trained to administer radiotherapy. The NHS cannot afford for this group to be forced to self-isolate for long periods or to infect colleagues. As such, the government must prioritise radiotherapy specialists in the provision of PPE and testing.
2. Rapid roll out of advanced radiotherapy techniques
As a response to coronavirus, NHS guidelines recommend reducing the number of radiotherapy treatments patients are given, and instead make use of more advanced radiotherapy treatments. However, these treatments are not currently available in all centres. Widespread provision will only be facilitated by the immediate suspension of the current internal tariff regime and commissioning constraints on advanced radiotherapy. Funding for IT communications urgently needs to be brought forward to improve medical imaging and make it possible for all centres to deliver the required treatments.
3. Employing private sector resources
Whilst agreements have been reached between the NHS and the private sector in relation to the treatment of Covid-19, no such arrangements have been made in regard to radiotherapy. The private sector has around twenty radiotherapy centres across the country, and some of these facilities have significant spare capacity. Were this excess capacity made available to the NHS, it would significantly reduce the pressure on existing NHS radiotherapy resources and help reduce disruption to patients by delivering treatments on time.
Grahame Morris MP said “The government needs to take urgent steps to protect cancer patients, maintain patient access to vital treatments as well as the safety and operational integrity of the highly skilled radiotherapy cancer workforce teams in specialist centres throughout the UK.”
Grahame has been working and liaising closely with Alex Norris MP, the Shadow Cancer Services Minister, to urge the Government to designate cancer services as essential. This will potentially prevent thousands of avoidable deaths of cancer patients that are unrelated to Covid-19, whose treatment has been stopped or delayed