When Tessa Munt, the MP for Wells, began to investigate why an innovative method of cancer treatment was not available in the South West, she was shocked at what she discovered.
The best form of radiotherapy treatment, SBRT, is not available in any of the hospitals in the South West. In fact, only seven hospitals in the country are able to use this form of treatment, and three of them are in London.
In its guide to NHS commissioners this year, the National Cancer Action Team announced that radiotherapy is now involved in 40 per cent of cases where cancer is cured, and radiotherapy on its own now cures 16 per cent of cancer patients. By comparison, chemotherapy (cancer drugs) is the main cure in only two per cent of cancer patients.
SBRT is useful in tackling several common types of cancers which were previously untreatable, such as those of the liver, prostate, spine, breast, head, neck and ovaries. It is amazingly precise – the radiation from it is focused only on the cancer tumour itself, which means the healthy tissue surrounding a tumour is not harmed. This is in stark contrast to traditional treatments which are often unsuitable for complex cancers or tumours close to vital organs.
The National Cancer Action Team argues that the South West is not being treated any differently from other regions in England.
Ms Munt has disproved this assertion by asking the hospitals themselves.
Clearly, the more cancer patients have access to radiotherapy, the better their chances of being cured of cancer. So here in the South West, where the disease is more common, more lives could be saved.
The Prime Minister announced that from April next year patients in need of innovative radiotherapy will be given the same guarantee as those patients in need of cancer drugs and that the funding will come from the cancer drug fund underspend.
That is welcome, but here in the South West we don’t have the machinery required to give patients these latest radiotherapy treatments like SBRT.
On Tuesday, Ms Munt explained to Western Daily Press readers why she believes the region’s cancer patients are being let down by Government. We share her concerns. Today, on this page, retired Somerset nurse Ruth Peberdy offers further compelling reasons for the men and women who decide on health care provision to think again about the needs of patients in our part of the country. They deserve a fairer deal.