SoR works with other health bodies to launch radiotherapy policy advisory, seeking greater NHS analysis

The Society has worked with other professional bodies to develop a policy briefing which is calling for work to improve staffing in the NHS

Published: 02 May 2024 Radiotherapy

The SoR has worked alongside other professional bodies to develop a policy advisory on provision of radiotherapy in the UK, and is urging ministers to heed its recommendations.

The Society of Radiographers, the Royal College of Radiologists, and the Institute of Physics and Engineering and Medicine have collaborated to launch the “Recovering radiotherapy services in England: Our plan for action” guide.

The report investigates the challenge of providing radiotherapy, the factors creating that challenge, and what can be done to overcome it.

'Therapeutic Radiographers are key'

Charlotte Beardmore, executive director of professional policy for the SoR, said: “The Society of Radiographers as a key partner in developing this report's findings urges government to invest money in the service, as over 50 per cent of patients with cancer will benefit from radiotherapy and currently patients are waiting too long for treatment.  

“Rapid investment in radiotherapy services is required to deliver world-class radiotherapy services  for patients in the UK. This is essential in order that patients receive the best possible outcomes from their cancer treatment. Growth and investment in the highly skilled workforce is essential.

“Therapeutic Radiographers are key to the delivery of accurate and high quality radiotherapy treatments and ensuring there are enough highly skilled Therapeutic Radiographers across the UK is essential. Better workforce planning is required and investment required to increase access to the profession including promotion and growth in the number of apprenticeships, together with associated training capacity."

'Postcode lottery of care'

The report found NHS England should undertake a formal analysis of the necessary steps required to build a sustainable radiotherapy workforce.

This should “recognise current challenges alongside projections of future cancer incidence, cancer stage and technological evolution” and “targeted investment should then be used to deliver the necessary changes to workforce recruitment and retention.”

The challenge for the NHS is that operational performance in radiotherapy has declined, and services are reporting long delays for patients needing treatment.

In October 2023, over 2,300 patients (11 per cent) started their treatment more than 31 days after the decision to treat. The data shows regional variation in progress against this target, leading to a “postcode lottery of care which exacerbates health inequalities.”

Factors and recommendations

The report identified the key factors in a lack of timely care as workforce shortages, a lack of clinical capacity to embed innovations, the need to redesign pathways, a lack of equipment and poor data collection limiting understanding of the patient pathway and experience.

However, the report has also laid out recommendations to policymakers on how to fix these issues, in particular the workforce shortage.

These recommendations include:

  • Expanding clinical oncology training places
  • Committing funding to a recruitment campaign, with greater focus on regions with fewer consultants
  • Investing in training programmes for clinical scientists, technologists, and systems support staff
  • Developing a central commissioning structure to support employment of Therapeutic Radiographers and clinical technologist apprentices
  • Investing in training capacity

Analysis of issues and recommendations for other factors can be found in the full report.

(Image: Charlotte Beardmore, via the SoR)