One in five radiotherapy machines in England are passed their scrappage date, putting cancer patients at risk, according to an investigation by Sky News.
The Freedom of Information request carried out by the Sky News team found that one in five radiation beam machines in England is still in use, despite it exceeding the recommended date for scrappage.
They go on to report that this puts patients a risk of serious side effects.
Dr Giles Maskell, president of The Royal College of Radiologists told Sky News that the findings were “scandalous” and one senior cancer specialist blamed the NHS’s financial crisis.
The European Society of Radiology recommends that machines are replaced every 10 years, to keep up with new technology.
Modern equipment, already available in some hospitals, allows doctors to fit the radiation beam to the tumour, reducing damage to the healthy tissue surrounding it.
111 Hospital Trusts provided data to Sky News. 63% of them said they had either a diagnostic scanner, or treatment machine that was older than 10 years.
There are 217 linear accelerator machines currently in use to treat cancer, 21% are at least 10 years old, and one hospital admitted that they are still using a machine installed 15 years ago.
Dr Giles Maskell added: “Patients who are being treated on older linear accelerators are not getting the precision of treatment that they would otherwise, so the effect of that is there is more radiation to normal tissue around the tumour and not precisely to the tumour itself. It becomes critical if the tumour is near vital organs.”
The Independent Cancer Taskforce reported seven months ago that the cost of replacing the outdated radiotherapy machines in England would exceed £200m.
Radiotherapy is a highly cost effective, and successful way to treat cancer. Four out of 10 patients who are cured of cancer have received radiotherapy as a key part of their treatment. A typical treatment course costs just £15,000 per patient, compared with upwards of £60,000 for the latest chemotherapy drugs – which often only extend lives for a matter of months.
An NHS England spokesperson said: “We are working with others across the health system to take this forward as quickly as possible. A range of options for the funding of the linear accelerator replacement programme are being considered. These options include the outright purchasing of new equipment and also looking at the potential benefits of leasing. The relevant hospitals will be able to replace and upgrade their equipment in the most cost effective way.”