Important Info about the new Cancer Radiotherapy Innovation Fund

Some may have noticed recent articles in the press announcing that the Government have set up a Cancer Radiotherapy Innovation Fund, which will save in the region of 8000 lives per year, and guarantee that anyone who is referred for advanced RT will get it. The Prime Minister has said: “We’re making sure that more people get the drugs and treatments they need. We are making £15 million available straightaway to make sure our NHS staff are trained to give treatments like this. We already have a guarantee for drugs – that if they’re safe, cost-effective and doctors say you need them, you will get them. From April 2013, for the first time ever, we’re extending that guarantee to radiotherapy too. This is going to help thousands of people at one of the hardest times of their lives.”
But what are the facts? Having scrutinized the DOH press release, these are my conclusion:
(1) The £15 Million that is supposedly available straight away will not enable patients who require RT treatments which are not routinely or currently funded get them. Actually, what the £15 million will be spent on straight away is staff training to operate a form of Radiotherapy known as Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy. Even then, it is doubtful where £15, million will come from, in view of the fact that the Government propose to get this money from the under-spending of other NHS budgets, such as the Emergency Drugs Fund. Given the current financial situation, how many of us think these budgets will be under-spent?
(2) Also, while training staff to operate IMRT is a good thing, it is debatable that more IMRT will help the Government meet the claim that,” The Cancer Radiotherapy Innovation Fund will expand the NHS’ capacity to deliver life-saving advanced radiotherapy techniques to those who need them by April 2013”. Because in fact, IMRT has been available within the NHS since 2000 – so hardly revolutionary. Consequently between now and April 2013, all the £15 million could do would be to allow the NHS to offer more IMRT.
(3) The DOH press release also claims that: “From April 2013, we will be able to guarantee access to innovative radiotherapy where clinically appropriate, safe and cost effective. Because cancer treatments will be planned and paid for nationally by the NHS Commissioning Board, for the first time cancer patients will be considered for the most appropriate radiotherapy treatment regardless of where they live. For example, this means that all patients with brain tumours who needed stereotactic radiosurgery would have equal access to this treatment”.
But this does not mean that a cancer patient who was deemed to require stereotactic radiotherapy would be guaranteed to get it? Nowhere does the Fund guarantee that patients will get stereotactic radiotherapy. All it guarantees is that patients will be ‘considered’, and have ‘equal access’ to treatment. What’s more, the only reason people will have equal access, is because local specialised commissioning will be replaced with national commissioning. At the moment applications for specialized funding (that is for treatments like Cyberknife stereotactic radiotherapy, that are not routinely funded), are made to local Specialised Commissioning Groups, and each area has their own policy (hence the postcode lottery). But as from April 2013 decisions about what services should be funded, and what Hospitals should receive for providing these services (the National Tariff), will be decided by a the NHS National Commissioning Board. While that may well end the postcode lottery, it also means that if the National Commissioning Board decide not to fund a treatment, nobody will get it (so it’s debatable how much it will help cancer patients).
Even if the NCB did decide to fund stereotactic RT, for brain tumours, what difference would that make to the current situation? The answer is very little, because although only 29 out of 150 PCT’s currently fund treatments that are called whole body stereotactic treatment (WBRT) such as Cyberknife , most do fund other forms of RT for brain tumours (such as Gamma-knife). Also, as the DOH press release only refers to stereotactic RT in the context of brain tumours there is nothing to suggest that the fund would provide stereotactic treatment for tumours elsewhere in the body.

In conclusion, there is no evidence in my view, that the Cancer Radiotherapy Implementation fund is going to provide patients with access to life-saving radiotherapy, or modernize radiotherapy within the NHS. Instead, my opinion is that it is misleading, and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Worse still I fear it will convince some, that the battle ro achieve funding for advanced RT is over.

Forgot to say, I hope people will read this, because people might assume they can now access new, advanced, life-saving RT. when that doesn’t as yet seem to be the case.

Why not ask your local MP or nearest Tory MP to put your points to the Minister and have them checked out? Sometimes it’s officials who operate smoke and mirrors rather than the politicians…

Nonsuch, that is something you could do if you like. But unfortunately, as the press release is practically all comments from David Cameron and Jeremy Hunt I doubt it’s worng. In anycase whether it is the Govt, or DOH doesn’t matter. All that matters is that some cancer patients may be deceived, by hollow promises.

Thanks for the info Lemongrove. It certainly is a pause for thought, actually I think it’s a load of old twaddle designed to make us believe that they are doing something for us… xx

Yes, thanks Lemongrove. As always you are on the ball and very informative. Makes me sick all this pretence at helping us when in fact such promises mean precious little …

Thanks for this, LG. I think the key here, whether we’re talking about drugs or RT, is the term “cost-effective”. We’ve already seen what that means in real terms: being denied access to many of the latest drugs if NICE deem them not to be cost-effective. In my opinion, the exact same thing will happen with RT.

(I presume all this only applies to England, as is the case with the Emergency Drugs Fund.)

Angelfalls, I think you’ve got it in one.
My view is why do we even need an Emergency Drugs Fund, or a Cancer Radiotherapy Innovation Fund? Surely, if the Oncologists and radio-oncologists that treat us think we require a drug or treatment, why do we have to then go cap in hand to get it? Needless to say someone will be along to say the NHS can’t afford everything, but these drugs and treatments are not frivolous extras, they’re about people trying to stay alive.
The Government keep saying we’re all in this together, but I don’t see that. For example, went into Crawley on Saturday, and found many of the shops closed or either turned into pound shops or money lenders/prawn brokers, but on the way out, the car in front of me was a newish Porsche Boxter, and in front of that a brand new Bentley Convertible. That tells me the poor are very hard up, and the rich can still afford luxuries. Personally think the dying, sick and vulnerable should not be penalised for the mistakes of the rich and greedy.

Well, you get my vote, Lemongrove! If only common sense and compassion could prevail…