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NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has today (Tuesday) announced a £130m investment to kickstart the upgrade of radiotherapy equipment and transform cancer treatment across England.
Around 4 in 10 of all NHS cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy, which typically uses high-energy radiation from a machine called a linear accelerator (‘Linac’). Radiotherapy is one of the three main cancer treatments, alongside cancer surgery and chemotherapy.
Over the next two years older Linac radiotherapy equipment being used by hospitals across the country will be upgraded or replaced, ensuring patients get access to the latest leading edge technology regardless of where they live.
It is recommended that Linacs are replaced after around 10 years in operation, however the last time there was a major national investment in NHS radiotherapy machines was in the early 2000s.
The new £130 million fund will over the next two years enable half of the five year modernisation programme recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce. The investment will pay for over 100 replacements or upgrades of radiotherapy machines in hospitals around England.
Recent advances in radiotherapy using cutting-edge imaging and computing technology have helped target radiation doses at cancer cells more precisely. As a result, they enable better outcomes, with improved quality of life for patients and reduced NHS costs in the long term, through patients experiencing fewer side effects.
Simon Stevens, NHS England Chief Executive, said: “Up to half of NHS cancer patients who are cured benefit from radiotherapy. Today we’re kickstarting the biggest single upgrade in NHS cancer treatment for at least the last fifteen years. Modern Linacs and software will mean hundreds of thousands of patients across England will now benefit from huge advances in precision cancer treatment.”
Cally Palmer, National Director for Cancer at NHS England, and chief executive of the Royal Marsden Hospital, said: “Cancer survival rates in this country have never been higher, and we’re seeing more people than ever come forward with symptoms – over 1.7 million referrals for urgent NHS investigation were made by GPs last year. Today’s announcement about action over the next two years is a decisive launch of our five year programme to modernise radiotherapy services – so that all patients have access to the very best technology available.”
This investment will be announced at NHS England’s Annual General Meeting being held today, and follows the publication of the report of the NHS’s Independent Cancer Taskforce – led by Sir Harpal Kumar, CEO of Cancer Research UK – which identified how the NHS can achieve world-class cancer outcomes and save more lives.
Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK said: “This announcement on new radiotherapy machines is fantastic news. Quickly replacing older radiotherapy machines and giving patients the most modern treatment that will give them the best chance of survival, while also reducing side effects. Technological advances in recent years have been immense, and this investment in state-of-the-art equipment will change the face of cancer treatment across England.”
Professor Nick Slevin, Chair of the Radiotherapy Clinical Reference Group, said: “There has been a big focus recently across England on expanding access to chemotherapy, including the repurposed NHS cancer drugs fund, but it is radiotherapy that often is actually curative for our patients. State of the art radiotherapy equipment will result in improved cure rates and less side effects for patients.”
The NHS is successfully treating more people with cancer – with 134,000 radiotherapy treatment episodes, and over 150,000 patients receiving chemotherapy last year – and overall, patients continue to report a very good experience of care.
NHS England as the national commissioner of radiotherapy services will use the national purchasing power of the NHS to drive improved pricing and value from equipment manufacturers and suppliers.
The investment pledge comes as NHS England provides an update at its Annual General Meeting today on progress made in the first of a five year programme to implement the cancer strategy set by the independent Cancer Taskforce. Specifically, over the last year NHS England has:
- Brought together GPs, hospital clinicians and other local leaders to establish 16 Cancer Alliances across England to lead implementation of the strategy locally and test more effective and efficient ways to plan, pay for, direct and deliver services for patients. They will support the new Sustainability and Transformation Plans (STPs) being developed in 44 areas across the country.
- Launched three cancer vanguard sites in London and Manchester to test a clinical network model for designing, planning and providing care that the Taskforce recommended.
- Begun to test rules for a new 28 day faster diagnosis standard in four areas of the country, and awarded funding to support long-term change in diagnosing cancer earlier.
- Started to pilot multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres at six sites, to speed up early diagnosis for patients.
- Together with NICE, launched a new approach to funding cancer drugs through the Cancer Drugs Fund. The first new drug, osimertinib has now come through the new system, benefiting lung cancer patients.
- Made available as standard six genetic diagnostic tests, to ensure each patient can access the best personalised treatment.
- Supported the launch of a new national Be Clear on Cancer campaign for lung cancer symptoms.
- Begun to develop a Quality of Life indicator for the first time, so we can ensure we improve quality of life for patients after treatment.
- Launched a new Cancer Dashboard, which gathers together all data and intelligence about performance and patient outcomes in one place, enabling the new Cancer Alliances to see where improvements need to be made in the patient pathway.