New radiotherapy networks must be supported by clear resourcing from NHSE

Thursday 24 January 2019

NHS England (NHSE) has unveiled its finalised service specification for the creation of 11 organisational networks to improve the provision of radiotherapy in England, as well as an aligned specification for cancer centres providing the treatment. 

The networks, which aim to improve care for patients by linking up cancer teams across sites and standardising processes, are due to come into operation in April 2019.

The Royal College of Radiologists (RCR) has welcomed the progression of the network model, but warned that it will not work without more centralised support and investment.  

Dr Jeanette Dickson, RCR Vice-President of Clinical Oncology, said:

“The RCR, and the cancer care community as a whole, fully supports the concept of radiotherapy networks and we welcome NHSE’s desire to improve patient access to modern radiotherapy techniques.

“The service specifications from NHSE make much of standardised protocols and virtual IT solutions to help cancer teams consistently work and learn together across hospitals, as part of the 11 newly created networks. NHSE also stresses that, as a result of better collaboration, patients will not be faced with having to travel further for specialised treatment.

“However, these solutions will be impossible to realise without strategic funding. 

“NHSE has promised unspecified resources to support the networks but allocation will be reliant on agreed workplans. It is essential we see some more detail on this between now and June, when the workplans are expected. 

“We are also concerned the self-auditing activities expected of networks could potentially hinder, rather than promote, technological progress and quality improvement within cancer centres if they become too onerous.  

“The vision for networks is hampered by the lack of a sustainable equipment programme – which is mentioned in the service specification but doesn’t actually exist – as well as poor IT connectivity. 

“Better IT underpins everything needed for the networks to operate but no clear funding has been earmarked. We know patient care is affected by incompatible, inefficient IT programmes and this needs to be centrally addressed as part of the new model.

“Cancer centres are charged with delivering workforce and IT solutions themselves, which we know, with all the constraints on hospital finances and existing staff shortages, is going to be next to impossible for them to do.

“Better networked staff across sites will undoubtedly advance practice and benefit patients, but it is dangerous to assume improved connectivity can occur without centralised investment, or that local workforce solutions can be achieved without a significant boost to the number of oncologists, radiographers and medical physicists who deliver the treatment.”