NHS England's £130m radiotherapy update 'will change face of cancer treatment'


Health officials are to update dozens of out-of-date cancer machines.

NHS England has announced it will be ploughing £130 million to update radiotherapy machines that have passed their sell-by date.

Cancer Research UK said the investment in state-of-the-art machines would "change the face of cancer treatment" across England.

But it called for officials to also tackle "severe" staff shortages across cancer services.

Figures released in February showed that out-of-date scanners are commonplace across England's hospitals.

Experts recommend that radiotherapy machines as well as MRI and CT scanners should be scrapped after 10 years. But in 111 of England's hospital trusts, 63% have at least one scanner or treatment machine which is a minimum of a decade old, according to the figures.

Meanwhile, one in five (21%) linear accelerator (Linac) radiotherapy machines at the trusts were at least a decade old.

A report by the Independent Cancer Taskforce published in 2015 called on the NHS to create a replacement plan for radiotherapy machines as they reach 10 years of age.

Now NHS England has responded to the call as chief executive Simon Stevens announced the investment to upgrade radiotherapy equipment.

Over the next two years older Linac radiotherapy equipment being used by hospitals across the country will be upgraded or replaced, Mr Stevens said.

Around four in 10 NHS cancer patients are treated with radiotherapy, which typically uses high-energy radiation from a Linac machine.

NHS England said that the investment pays for over 100 replacements or upgrades of radiotherapy machines in hospitals around England.

Mr Stevens said: "Up to half of NHS cancer patients who are cured benefit from radiotherapy.

"We are kick-starting the biggest single upgrade in NHS cancer treatment for at least the last 15 years.

"Modern Linacs and software will mean hundreds of thousands of patients across England will now benefit from huge advances in precision cancer treatment."

Sir Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, welcomed the news, adding: "Outdated radiotherapy machines in many parts of the country have meant that patients have been denied a treatment that gives them the best chance of survival as well as reducing debilitating side effects.

"This investment in state-of-the-art equipment will change the face of cancer treatment across England.

"Modern radiotherapy plays a vital part in curing cancer and relieving symptoms for thousands of patients and the technological advances in recent years have been immense."

NHS England will also set out the progress it has made on other elements of the Cancer Strategy set out by the Independent Taskforce at its annual general meeting.

It has taken a series of steps to act on recommendations set out by the taskforce, aiming to give patients in England world-class cancer care.

Sir Harpal, who was independent chairman of the Cancer Strategy Taskforce, said: "Good progress has been made since the NHS cancer strategy was published last year.

"But it will be critical over the next 12 months to start tackling the severe staff shortages in key cancer services if we are to see real advances in areas such as earlier diagnosis.

"There's no easy fix but we must start now if we want to make serious improvements to patient care over the next few years."