"Cancer treatment is being seriously affected by lack of diagnostic and radiotherapy staff"

Published: 05 August 2019 Ezine

The Society was mentioned repeatedly in an hour-long debate this afternoon in the House of Commons which castigated the government for the lack of funding for radiotherapy services.

Sponsored by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Radiotherapy (APPG), members of parliament praised radiographers and the cancer workforce. 

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton, Labour) said that cancer treatment is being seriously affected by a lack of diagnostic and radiotherapy staff and equipment. She supported the Society’s call for an increase in the workforce, equipment and infrastructure. She said, "The Society of Radiographers identified missed opportunities such as service improvements, insufficient capacity to undertake clinical research, the downgrading of the patient experience, competition for scarce staff in the local labour market, and decreased staff wellbeing and morale."

She asked the government to "Commission a full assessment of the impact of the replacement of bursaries with loans upon allied health professionals. These skilled, dedicated and highly qualified staff are the unseen backbone of our NHS.”

Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury, Labour) also spoke about the staffing crisis: "The NHS workforce remains over-stretched, over-worked and under valued. Radiotherapy services and staff need transformative actions, not words, to provide the world class care that our patients deserve."

Chris Bryant (Rhondda, Labour) talked about the "growing cancer crisis" and reminded members that the Velindre Cancer Centre had not met the target of 98% of patients receiving radical radiotherapy within 28 days in any month of the past year. In January it was only 63%. He finished his speech saying, “We could save more lives if we had more people working in these services.”

In what was at times an emotional debate as members, including Seema Kennedy, the minister, remembered the loved ones they had lost to cancer, Grahame Morris (Easington, Labour, vice-chair of the APPG) called for the appointment of a 'radiotherapy tsar', who would "ensure the NHS has a world-class radiotherapy service." 

He advised MPs that radiotherapy only has 5% of the cancer treatment budget (0.025% of the NHS budget) and proposed that this should be increased to 6.5% to help fund a "rolling programme of equipment updates to ensure patients have access to the latest treatment."

The chair of the APPG, Tim Farron (Westmoreland and Lonsdale, Liberal Democrat), challenged the NHS England figure that only 40% of cancer patients will need radiotherapy and said evidence taken by the APPG showed that the figure is closer to 50%. "Consequently," he said, "NHS England is not commissioning sufficient provision to meet the needs of cancer patients. The government must plan on the basis of true demand and not a figure discredited by experts.

"We need to think carefully about the financial disparity. Radiotherapy lacks the backing of cancer drug treatments. Drug companies lobby passionately about the treatments they provide. Radiotherapy has no such lobby. It has become the Cinderella service because it lacks a champion. We want the minister to be that champion."

Seema Kennedy, the parliamentary under-secretary for health and social care, said she would be "very happy to meet with the all-party group. Cancer is a priority for this government and we have got cancer survival rates down in the past 10 years but there is a lot more to do."

She acknowledged that until she had read the APPG’s manifesto, she wasn’t aware of the importance of radiotherapy.