'Patients face radiotherapy crisis'

Cancer patients are dying unnecessarily and others are not getting the treatment they need to relieve their pain because of a crisis in radiotherapy, a report warned.

The Royal College of Radiologists said despite Department of Health and National Lottery cash to update equipment, patients were still suffering from shortages.

RCR president Dr Dan Ash said a lack of staff and equipment was contributing to a crisis in radiotherapy, a major treatment for cancer which is responsible for about 40% of cured cases.

"There is no doubt that patients are dying unnecessarily and many are not able to have timely palliation of the symptoms of advanced cancer due to the lack of radiotherapy capacity in the UK," Dr Ash said.

A RCR report looked at equipment, workload and staffing for radiotherapy in the UK between 1997 and 2002.

They found that despite a 16% increase in demand for treatment, megavoltage machines in clinical use for radiotherapy had only increased by 10%.

This led to patients having to wait longer for their treatment to begin, while others had to be live with the symptoms for a longer time.

Services are still falling short of the targets set by the National Cancer Plan in 1998, with the situation set to get worse, the report said.

By 2004, there should be 4.2 linear accelerators - the device which delivers a dose of high-energy X-ray to target tumours - per million of the population.

The RCR said that while this may have been appropriate when the target was set in 1998, it was "well below" what was needed now.

France has 6.1 machines per million, while in the Netherlands the figure was 7.1, leaving the UK well behind. As well as a shortage, the current machines were found to be ageing rapidly.

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