First ever report of radiotherapy access across the NHS

In collaboration with the Press Association

The world's first detailed ongoing analysis of a country's radiotherapy services has given some clues as to the reasons behind variations in treatment in England, according to a report published by the Department of Health.

The National Cancer Services Analysis Team (NatCanSat) gathered data from radiotherapy treatment equipment across the NHS, which together make up a national radiotherapy dataset. This information was sent to the National Cancer Action Team (NCAT), and the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN), in order to produce a comprehensive picture of radiotherapy activity in England.

NCIN director of clinical outcomes Di Riley said the information can aid the NHS in identifying any regional differences in radiotherapy access and help in plans to address them.

She said: "For the first time, we have an incredibly detailed picture of radiotherapy provision across England. It's particularly encouraging to see that radiotherapy access is fairly uniform across the country. While, at first glance, these data appear to show some regional differences in radiotherapy provision, in reality these variations are not great.

"There are a number of factors which affect radiotherapy use across the country including the average age of the population in a given area, the stage at which cancer is diagnosed and social deprivation. There is also an issue of the distance patients have to travel to their radiotherapy centre.

"This distance tends to be greater in the North than the South and this is already being addressed by the development of local satellite centres. For example, The Christie Hospital has opened two new satellite centres in the last year at Salford and Oldham, which should further improve access rates in the north-west."

Hilary Tovey, Cancer Research UK's policy manager, said: "The snapshot that these data provide - looking at how much radiotherapy is being delivered and where - shows there are more questions to be answered about radiotherapy services across the country, and particularly where variations exist.

"Bringing this information together has been an enormous achievement. And in the future there will be opportunities to link this to details about how well patients are faring after treatment, to help us learn more about the impact these differences are having on patient outcomes.

"We know radiotherapy can cure cancer, but that the UK falls short of the number of patients which should receive radiotherapy as part of their treatment. We also know that newer forms of radiotherapy aren't available to all patients who might benefit across the country.

"We want the government to make more of the radiotherapy information we're collecting available to patients, so that they can make informed choices about their treatment. And we want the government and local providers to act on existing variations to ensure that no patient will miss out on the best possible cancer treatment simply because of where in the country they live."

Copyright Press Association 2011