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Patients are being offered more convenient cancer treatment during the coronavirus pandemic, including chemotherapy buses and the fast track rollout of an innovative and life-saving type of radiotherapy.
NHS England has today announced it is accelerating the use of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) which requires fewer doses than standard radiotherapy, cutting the number of hospital visits that potentially vulnerable cancer patients need to make. Rather than full rollout by 2022, it will now be available across the NHS by the end of this financial year.
It is a very precise method using a high dose of radiations with only around five outpatient visits, compared to conventional radiotherapy, requiring 20 – 30 treatments.
By April every part of the country will be offering SABR treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and those with lung, lymph nodes and non-spine bone oligometastatic disease, in radiotherapy units nationwide. Further rollout for other disease types is planned for 2021/22.
Local hospitals have also increased treatment outside of hospital including fast-tracking the use of ‘chemo buses’ so people can receive life-saving care without having to travel long distances.
Although some cancer treatments which weaken the immune system have had to be paused until a safer time, frontline staff have pulled out all the stops to ensure people can get cancer care, with almost 30,000 people starting treatment during March.
Four cancer buses, based in North Middlesex University Hospital in London and Airedale NHS Trust in Yorkshire, have allowed around 60 sessions a day to go ahead.
The buses have space for clinical teams to give chemo to four patients at a time, either directly outside of the hospital or in a convenient location for patients.
Hospitals have also significantly increased the use of chemo at home, with local pharmacy teams and community nurses providing the service to reduce cancer patients’ risk of exposure to the virus.
At the Clatterbridge Cancer Centre in Merseyside, the number of people receiving care at home from specialist chemo nurses has increased by 15% during the outbreak, with 285 patients in the area having oral chemotherapy delivered to their door by local volunteers.
The NHS has this week set out steps to treat more patients safely, including carrying out multiple same day tests to minimise patient visits and expand cancer hubs so that surgeries can be restored to pre pandemic levels.
This action joins a series of measures, including the rollout of ‘covid protected’ cancer hubs for treatment and online consultations so people do not have to go to hospitals for regular checks.
Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive said: “While the NHS has pulled out all the stops to care for nearly 100,000 older and vulnerable patients who have needed emergency hospital treatment for COVID-19, staff have also worked hard to sustain other services including A&E, maternity care and treatment for urgent and emergency conditions.
“While it’s perhaps unsurprising that as covid19 peaked in April there was a large drop in the number of people coming forward for check ups, now is the time to do so where people have a concern.
“Hospitals are going to great lengths to deliver care and treatment for patients in a safe space, from online consultations to chemo buses and covid free surgical hubs. The NHS is also accelerating access to new treatment options, including SABR – a potentially life-saving form of precision radiotherapy for people with cancer.”
Dr Nicholas van As, Chair of the UK SABR Consortium, said: “The UK SABR Consortium is delighted to work with the NHS, enabling every radiotherapy service to deliver this innovative radiotherapy treatment. Our focus is on making sure patients have access to high quality treatment that meets their needs.”