Radiotherapy: 16th April 2013

Grahame M. Morris (Easington) (Lab)
2. What progress he has made on the commitment that patients would have access to appropriate radiotherapy wherever they lived. [150764]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Anna Soubry)
I am pleased to say that from 26 March £22.7 million of the Prime Minister’s fund to improve access to what is called intensity modulated radiotherapy—IMR in short—has already been committed. The money is being used to update machines and ensure that radiographers receive extra training if they need it. We are well on our way, especially as it is now a nationally commissioned service, so there is no reason why anybody should not have the access they need to this treatment.
 
Grahame M. Morris
I thank the Minister for that response, but is she aware that new guidelines released by NHS England for treating patients using stereotactic ablative radiotherapy—advanced radiotherapy—say that only commissioning for early stage lung cancer will be approved, and that other treatments for all other cancers can be paid for only in clinical trials? As no trials are being commissioned in England, can the Minister explain how the treatment for patients with prostate, liver and spinal cancer, who were receiving SABR treatment last month, will be funded in the future?

Anna Soubry
What I do know, having had a long meeting with my officials only this morning, is that the evidence, as they have explained it to me, is clear: SABR is effective only in a small number of people who have, unfortunately, a certain small tumour in their lungs, and it is not suitable for other treatments of cancers. However, if the hon. Gentleman wants to discuss the matter further, my door is always open.

Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire) (Con)
The trouble with all these things is that medical science moves faster than the targets set by the Government. Does the Minister ​agree with me that proton beam therapy is now almost as important as radiotherapy? How much have the Government spent on this therapy, and how many patients have been helped by it?

Anna Soubry
We are building two new machines specifically to deliver that treatment. I accept that these things often take a long time, but those machines are planned. In the meantime, NHS England has made it clear that people who need this specific type of treatment can receive it overseas and it will be funded accordingly.

Tessa Munt (Wells) (LD)
Two years ago, the Prime Minister accepted the installation of CyberKnife as the latest in cancer radiosurgery equipment at the world-leading Royal Marsden hospital cancer centre. At the last Health questions, I asked the Secretary of State whether he would accept one of the countless invitations to visit the Royal Marsden. The consultant clinical oncologist has issued and reissued that invitation, but has had no response from the Department. Will the Secretary of State now please visit CyberKnife at the Royal Marsden?

Anna Soubry
I have to tell the hon. Lady that, as she knows, there is some controversy over this treatment, which is backed by a very large and powerful American company. The Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich (Dr Poulter), has visited, and I know that the Secretary of State has an extremely busy and full diary. It is not as simple as a visit; it is all about whether there is any clinical value.