BIR joins forces in letter to Prime Minister

The BIR has written to the Prime Minister, as part of a group of organisations in the voluntary and private sector, to call for increased funding for  advanced radiotherapy treatment. Here is our letter:

25 February 2013

Dear Prime Minister

Your announcement last October that all cancer patients who need innovative radiotherapy will get it from April this year was welcomed with great enthusiasm by everyone working in radiotherapy across the NHS, the cancer charities and the companies concerned with supporting radiotherapy. We are all keen to work with you to help you fulfil this pledge.

Your recognition that radiotherapy is now a major contributor in the fight against cancer is something we’ve been waiting a great many years to hear. That it has come from the most senior politician in the country is heartening indeed. You will know that radiotherapy contributes to 40% of all cancers that are cured and on its own radiotherapy is responsible for curing 16% of all cancers. Consequently, you were right to say that a more supportive approach to innovative radiotherapy from commissioners will save a great many more lives in the coming years and improve cancer outcomes considerably. We are sure you are aware that The King’s Fund, in its report of June 2011: “How to improve cancer survival – Explaining England’s relatively poor rates”, states that “It is more important to improve access to surgery and radiotherapy than access to cancer drugs”.

Since you made your announcement the creation of the interim £15 million Cancer Radiotherapy Innovation Fund by the Department of Health, subsequently increased to a total of £23 million has been welcome. We have supported the distribution of the additional funding and its use to promote the implementation of Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT).

Your pledge has certainly focused our industry on the magnitude of the task that faces us if we are to help you deliver it. The recently published government report; Radiotherapy Services in England 2012 by the National Radiotherapy Implementation Group (NRIG) outlines what progress has been made in the last two years. It also starkly highlights what needs to be done if we are to deliver the world class cancer service we all want. 10% of our operational radiotherapy machines should have been replaced by now. Within three years 22% will need replacing and a further 147 machines will be required by then if we are to keep up with the growth of cancer amongst our ageing population. In total, some 249 new linear accelerator machines are required. This is more than one every week between now and 2016.

Before the last General Election you pledged that you would create a Cancer Drug Fund to help those patients who were being denied life-saving drugs. When you became Prime Minister you honoured that pledge with a £200 million annual budget. Since that date some 20,000 cancer patients have been helped through the fund. Whilst the Fund has been of tremendous help you will also be aware that many of the patients it helped also required radiotherapy which was denied additional funding. What is required now is an equally bold decision to ensure additional funding for radiotherapy. As a first step, this could be provided to ensure timely replacement of the large number of linear accelerator treatment machines identified within the Radiotherapy Services in England 2012 report.

The exercise carried out as a result of the Radiotherapy Innovation Fund has demonstrated that there will remain a number of funding issues relating to advanced radiotherapy such as Image Guidance and stereotactic ablative body radiotherapy (SABR) which has been shown to be highly effective in the treatment of small lung tumours.  We are concerned that an ongoing shortfall of funding will prevent the most advanced techniques being universally available to all patients who would benefit from them.  As this is very similar to the situation which led to the setting up of the Cancer Drugs Fund we ask that the government works with continued enthusiasm to promote an appropriate and higher level of funding to support advanced radiotherapy treatment.

To fulfil your pledge to cancer patients, the NHS needs to be able to invest in the very latest technologies in radiotherapy. Enabling our experts to deliver the very best standard of care for cancer patients throughout England will improve outcomes and give us a world leading position in the fight against cancer.

The signatories to this letter represent the partnership between professionals, charities and industry that shares a common passion for radiotherapy and a common desire, with you, to see cancer treatment in the UK which once again is world-class.

Yours sincerely
Mr Richard Evans
Chief Executive Officer                                 
Society and College of Radiographers

Professor Andrew Jones
British Institute of Radiology
Mr David Scott
UK Sales Manager
Varian  Medical Systems
Professor Andy Beavis
Consultant Medical Physicist and Founder,
Vertual Ltd
Mr Barry Bonner
Sales manager UK and Ireland
Accuray Europe
William Yaeger,  Executive Vice President, Oncology
Elekta Limited

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