Hope for cancer patients as radiotherapy services resume pre-pandemic activity

Radiotherapy services in England have returned to pre-pandemic levels, new figures show.

The number of treatments where radiation is used to kill cancer cells dipped in March and April but by June they were operating at usual capacity.

Cancer charities had previously raised concerns about disruption to services during the pandemic.

But figures from the NHS in England show that in April there were 8,253 treatments delivered, compared to 10,233 in April 2019, a dip of 19%.

In May there was a 12% reduction.

But by June services had returned the same levels seen in June in 2019.

In June this year there were 9,474 radiotherapy treatments carried out compared to 9,506 in June 2019.

The bounce back comes after experts implemented the use of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy which requires fewer doses than standard radiotherapy.

Using this precise type of radiotherapy, which uses higher doses of radiation, requires around five outpatient visits to hospital compared with up to 30 hospital visits with conventional radiotherapy.

Dame Cally Palmer, NHS national director for cancer, said: “It’s welcome news that radiotherapy patient treatments are now fully back to their pre-pandemic levels, with these services fully restored.

“While NHS staff have worked around the clock to treat around 110,000 people in hospital for coronavirus, other services have continued at the same time, 85,000 people were treated for cancer, over 10 million urgent tests and checks were carried out there were 102 million GP appointments.

“From specialist radiotherapy to the roll-out of ‘Covid friendly’ cancer drugs, the NHS has accelerated innovative, potentially life-saving treatment options and so if you or a family member has a warning sign or symptom of cancer, please come forward to get checked – staff up and down the country are here and ready to help you.”

It comes as increasing numbers of people have been referred for cancer checks, with 45,000 extra referrals in June compared to May.

Commenting on the figures, Dr Jeanette Dickson, President of The Royal College of Radiologists, said: “Radiotherapy provision has not stopped during the pandemic.

“The fact that treatment rates have recovered to the levels seen at the start of the year is testament to the dedication of radiotherapy teams across the country, who have maintained services despite coronavirus leading to significant staff absences and new infection control measures.

“Radiotherapy departments have also worked hard throughout the past few months to adapt and rapidly adopt innovative new treatments, for example, by markedly shortening treatment times for certain types of breast cancer, meaning patients have the same outcomes but make many fewer visit to hospital.”

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