A relatively new and precise cancer treatment is being denied to patients in the South West, says Wells MP Tessa Munt.
SBRT (Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy) is a form of radiotherapy that targets tumours directly so cancers close to vital organs can be treated much more efficiently or even at all.
According to Ms Munt, early last year, Plymouth Derriford Hospital which was due to provide SBRT, had to cancel the plan as there wasn’t enough money to buy the Cyberknife robotic system – a system used to provide the treatment.
Ms Munt said: “It is sickening to see that patients in our region – where cancer rates are high – have been denied the chance to access the best possible treatment.”
The MP says she has been determined to campaign for SBRT to be available in the South West but after asking questions in the House of Commons on the issue of funding, she “didn’t receive a single straightforward answer”.
In light if this, she decided to use the Freedom of Information Act to ask every hospital in England after the provision of SBRT. Ms Munt says she was shocked to find out that only seven hospitals in the country are able to use this form of radiotherapy and the South West did not have a single treatment centre. Ms Munt argues that having SBRT in the South West is of paramount importance.
She said: “In its guide to NHS commissioners this year, the National Cancer Action Team clearly 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.
“Here in the South West, where the disease is more common, that guidance means access to radiotherapy will save more lives.”
The MP wants to see a bigger chunk of the cancer treatment budget given over to SBRT. She also wants to know why an estimated underspend by the cancer drug fund last year can’t be used to “modernise radiotherapy provision in the South West”.
The Department of Health has responded to Tessa Munt’s concerns by saying: “Ensuring that all cancer patients receive the appropriate treatment delivered to a high standard is critical to improving cancer outcomes, and we have invested an extra £165 million in expanding radiotherapy capacity.
“The number of centres providing Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy treatment is increasing, with over a quarter of centres having equipment capable of delivering the treatment.
“Decisions to purchase high value equipment are made locally, and cases for procurement should take account of the available clinical evidence, potential demand and the costs of the different machines available that are capable of meeting the operational need.”