Report shows NHS needs better planning for radiotherapy and scanning equipment

In collaboration with Adfero

Cancer Research UK has called on the government to develop an action plan for radiotherapy to ensure that the NHS is getting the most out of the radiotherapy equipment it buys. This comes after the National Audit Office (NAO) raised concerns over how decisions about high-value equipment are being made in the NHS in England.

The study found that not all trusts are achieving value for money in the planning, procurement and use of equipment such as CT, MRI scanners and linear accelerator machines (linacs), which produce high-energy x-rays for the detection and treatment of disease.

The NAO pointed out that around half of all CT and MRI scanners and linac machines will need replacing within the next three years, which could cost as much as £460 million.

Trusts could save money by ensuring they get the best prices and collaborating to purchase machines, but currently not all are successfully doing so.

The report also raised concerns about trusts' capability to deliver radiotherapy services in the face of increasing demand in the future. Shortages in numbers of trained staff were specifically highlighted, as around seven per cent of therapeutic radiographer positions currently remain unfilled.

NAO head Amyas Morse said that the replacement of high-value medical equipment over the next three years will be "a challenge, requiring planning by individual trusts since there is no longer a centrally funded programme".

He added: "Turning to efficient management of this equipment, trusts across the NHS lack the information and benchmarking data required to secure cost-efficient procurement and sustainable maintenance of these key elements in modern diagnosis and treatment."

The report was welcomed by the Royal College of Radiologists, whose president, Dr Jane Barrett, said that it highlighted the need to plan for the future.

She revealed: "In the 2000s, there was an extensive and welcome period of investment in such equipment. This, coupled with increased numbers of radiologists and oncologists, has helped to reduce waiting times and improve access to cancer treatment and diagnosis.

"In such a fast moving field, it is essential that equipment levels and specification are commissioned at levels that allow patients to receive a world-class service."

Hilary Tovey, policy manager at Cancer Research UK, described radiotherapy as a "vital" part of cancer treatment and noted that around two-fifths of patients who are cured of cancer receive radiotherapy.

She said: "With changes to NHS commissioning, and the need for the NHS to find efficiency savings, the service will need a clear plan for how radiotherapy will be commissioned in the future. This report highlights some of the challenges which might face GP consortia if they were asked to do this.

"This report also shows that a world-class radiotherapy service is about more than just ensuring we have the right number of machines. While funding must be made available to update machines and buy newer models where needed, the government also needs to ensure that the NHS has enough of the right staff to deliver radiotherapy.

"Cancer Research UK is calling on the government to introduce an action plan for radiotherapy, to plan for the future and help ensure that all patients have the best treatment possible."