News

11.06.20

More convenient cancer treatments to be offered during coronavirus

NHS England has announced its decision to accelerate the offering of more convenient cancer treatment to patients during the coronavirus pandemic, including chemotherapy buses and the fast track rollout of an innovative and life-saving type of radiotherapy.

The use of stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), which uses fewer doses than standard radiotherapy, is set to be increased, cutting the number of hospital visits which potentially vulnerable cancer patients need to make. Rather than the intended full rollout date by the end of 2022, it will now be available across the NHS by the end of the current financial year.

SABR represents a very precise method using a high dose of radiations with only around five outpatient visits, compared to the 20-30 treatments typically required with conventional radiotherapy.

By April, every part of the country will be offering SABR treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and those with lung, lymph node and non-spine bone oligometastatic disease in radiotherapy units nationwide. Further rollout for other disease types is then planned for 2021/22.

Other measures also being fast-tracked include the increasing of treatment outside of hospital by increasing the number of ‘chemo buses’ available to local hospitals, allowing patients to receive care without having to travel potentially long distances.

Four cancer buses, based in North Middlesex University Hospital in London and Airedale NHS Trust in Yorkshire, have allowed around 60 sessions a day to go ahead. The buses have space for clinical teams to give chemo to four patients at a time, either directly outside of the hospital or in a convenient location for patients.

READ MORE: Cancer care backlog to affect around 2.4 million people in the UK

READ MORE: NHS Confederation: Public need reassurance over NHS recovery

Though coronavirus has caused the postponement of some cancer treatments which weaken the immune system until a safer time, almost 30,000 people still began treatment during March.

Hospitals have also significantly increased the use of chemo at home, with local pharmacy teams and community nurses providing the service to reduce cancer patients’ risk of exposure to the virus.

Sir Simon Stevens, NHS chief executive said: “While the NHS has pulled out all the stops to care for nearly 100,000 older and vulnerable patients who have needed emergency hospital treatment for Covid-19, staff have also worked hard to sustain other services including A&E, maternity care and treatment for urgent and emergency conditions.

“While it’s perhaps unsurprising that as covid19 peaked in April there was a large drop in the number of people coming forward for check-ups, now is the time to do so where people have a concern.

“Hospitals are going to great lengths to deliver care and treatment for patients in a safe space, from online consultations to chemo buses and Covid-19 free surgical hubs. The NHS is also accelerating access to new treatment options, including SABR – a potentially life-saving form of precision radiotherapy for people with cancer.”

Dr Nicholas van As, Chair of the UK SABR Consortium, added: “The UK SABR Consortium is delighted to work with the NHS, enabling every radiotherapy service to deliver this innovative radiotherapy treatment. Our focus is on making sure patients have access to high quality treatment that meets their needs.”

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