NHS Cancer Patients At Risk From Outdated Radiotherapy Machines

28 January 2014

NHS Cancer Patients At Risk From Outdated Radiotherapy Machines

Figures obtained from a hospital document suggest that thousands of cancer patients are currently receiving radiotherapy with outdated and old machines that are no longer fit for purpose and which should be replaced with newer models.

Mistreatment.com often receives enquiries from members of the public regarding cancer misdiagnosis and complaints about levels of treatment when undergoing radiotherapy and the figures suggest that one in eight of the radiotherapy machines being used at NHS hospitals are over 10 years old. Given the importance of radiotherapy sessions to a cancer patient, it is usually the case that such old machines should be replaced with newer models. When dealing with medical negligence enquiries and complaints, Mistreatment.com has seen examples of where these machines have been used to treat different cancers including brain, liver, breast, lung and prostrate.

The document-believed to be from NHS England and obtained via a tabloid newspaper discusses the deterioration of specific radiation machines which are a vital part of tumour treatment, utilising radiation to stem the growth of cancer. The lifespan of the actual machinery – called linear accelerators – is supposed to be 10 years according to the document.

Details within the document contend that an urgent review is pending over the next weeks into the linear accelerators. The figures suggest that 269 linear accelerators are being used by NHS England. 139 of them are at least 8 years old-the point at which a decision to replace them should be made according to guidelines. However 38 of the total linear accelerators are more than 10 years old. The document itself explains that 10 years is a cut-off point and that such old equipment requires replacement, specifying that they often “can no longer deliver modern radiotherapy techniques, which are linked to better patient outcomes.”

Lib Dem MP Tessa Munt said last night: “Patients won’t be safe if they keep these old machines working. They should be replaced with modern machines fit for the 21st century.

“The UK is falling further behind other countries in providing modern radiotherapy for cancer patients.”

“Things are so bad now that one French hospital is treating more cancer patients with modern stereotactic radiotherapy than all the hospitals in England combined.

“This is just not good enough. NHS England needs to wake up and deal with this now.”

Neurosurgeon Andras Kemeny, the president of the British Radiosurgery Society, said the NHS England report was a “damning indictment”. He added: “There is a need for planned replacement of radiotherapy machines."

Radiotherapy treatment is often used to deal with cancerous tumours but despite 50 NHS centres in the UK providing the machinery necessary to treat cancer patients, state-of-the-art equipment is only available in London, Leeds, Sheffield and Birmingham. Such advanced methods to treat cancer include Gamma Knife and CyberKnife machines.

Mistreatment.com works with numerous accredited medical negligence lawyers and the number of cases they have dealt with make clear that outdated radiotherapy devices can detrimentally impact patient care outcomes for cancer patients, with the effectiveness of the radiation substantially weakened when utilised to fight cancerous cells, possibly even harming healthy tissue around tumours.

As well as MPs, action groups and charities have pressed upon the importance to be more transparent about the age of radiotherapy equipment.

Janice Millington, who chairs the radiotherapy action group RAGE, said: “It’s just not right that such old machines are still being used.

“All this information should be put in the public domain. Patients should be told the age and type of the machines and what the other options are.

William Jones, of the Brains Trust, said patients were angered when vital information like this was kept secret from them.  About 90,000 people will be treated with radiotherapy in 2014.

Mistreatment.com was created to listen to talk to people who feel that they had nobody at the NHS to listen to them when something went wrong. Members of the public who call through to us often want to raise an issue within NHS care so that somebody else is not affected the way their and their loved ones have been. Sometimes they call through to us to make a medical negligence claim because a financial settlement is needed to rebuild their life and to take care of their family. If you have experienced a form of medical mistreatment through emergency services, A&E or through surgery, for example, you can speak to the experts at Mistreatment.com