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Daily Express front page

Message from Prof Price: Addressing the desperate lack of access to radiotherapy cancer treatments

Radiotherapy is always at the forefront of my mind, but it’s not everyday that it’s the front page news in the UK. The Express headline story highlighted the millions of UK patients living in cancer care deserts. 

Based on a new report from Radiotherapy UK, an estimated 7.4 million people in the UK live more than 45 minutes from their closest radiotherapy centre, when driving. That’s far too many cancer patients who need radiotherapy who then face long, arduous journeys to get to their nearest radiotherapy centre. Or worse still, the nearest one is so far away that it’s just not a viable option.

Infographic showing map of UK highlighting areas that are within a 45 minute drive of radiotherapy treatment centers

Travel Times Analysis

The findings from the Radiotherapy UK report, “Equity of Access to Cancer Treatment”, tell us that 22% of the total population of the UK are further than the recommended 45 minutes from their closest radiotherapy service. The analysis comes after international research in the Lancet Oncology links poor access to radiotherapy with reduced cancer survival.  

The Need for Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy is one of the most important cancer treatments. We know from international research that radiotherapy is needed by around half of cancer patients. And by 2040, there'll be over 500,000 new cancer cases yearly. But shockingly, only around 1 in 4 cancer patients get this vital treatment in the UK. This is not OK. Where you live should not determine if you live.  

Advocating for Better Radiotherapy Access

The case for enhanced accessibility to radiotherapy across the UK is overwhelming, and it should be a matter of concern for every policymaker and part of the country. We must bridge this gap to ensure every patient has swift access to life-saving treatments.

The radiotherapy community has been crying out about this crisis for a long time. But we’re fighting against what feels like a heartbreaking collective burying of heads in the sand across the Government and the top of the NHS. We are constantly told that the NHS is diagnosing more cancer patients than ever. That’s all well and good. But what’s the point of diagnosing patients if we don’t treat them?

A New Approach

To truly tackle this cancer crisis we need to both diagnose and treat patients quickly. We need a radical new approach in all areas of cancer care and increasing access to radiotherapy is an obvious place to start.

Early diagnosis and new treatments arising from research all have their place.  But the reality is the front line knows what needs to be done. And it doesn’t need us to invent anything new.

  • There are existing new radiotherapy treatments and technology that could have a massive impact. 

  • Newer machines can treat patients faster, reducing the need for multiple hospital trips.

  • The radiotherapy community have produced a plan for restoring world class radiotherapy over the next ten years and presented this to Parliament.

You would think that in light of the above, policymakers would be breaking down the doors of the radiotherapy community to hear how they can quickly be implemented. Sadly, that’s not the case.

Achieving the Goal

It’s often said that we are in a ‘war against cancer’. But if we want to win that war, why are the powers that be consistently failing to make the best use of one of the most effective weapons in our arsenal – radiotherapy? 

By expanding access to radiotherapy services across the UK, the Government can improve patient outcomes, lower NHS cancer waiting times, and receive the best value for money of any available cancer treatment. I urge those in power to work with us to deliver the world class radiotherapy service our country deserves.