World-class Radiotherapy in the UK: a Vision

World-class Radiotherapy in the UK

Right Patient, Right Treatment, Right Time

Led by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Radiotherapy, the radiotherapy community has launched a bold new 10-year Vision named World-class Radiotherapy in the UK: Right Patient, Right Treatment, Right Time.

The Vision sets out a path to achieve world-class radiotherapy for patients across the UK by 2034, cut record wait times for treatment, and plan for the rising numbers of patients being diagnosed.  Launched in the House of Commons on February 6, it has already won the support of Bryan Robson OBE, Parliamentarians and leading cancer experts.  

As secretariat for the APPGRT, Radiotherapy UK has been honoured to work with so many outstanding contributors and supporters to create the Vision document, which can be read and downloaded using the buttons below. Our thanks to all that made this possible. 

Executive Summary

In 2023, the length of time cancer patients waited for treatment in the UK reached record highs. As services struggle, wait times are rising. More and more of us are getting cancer and by 2040, the number of people in the UK with cancer is estimated to increase by one-third.

UK patient survival remains near the bottom of international cancer survival tables. We urgently need to focus on how to treat cancer patients quicker and better, finding solutions to address current patient needs and prepare successfully for future challenges.

L to R: co-author Sarah Quinlan, Tim Farron, chair of the APPGRT, co-author Dr. Katie Wakeham, Nike athlete David Smith MBE, co-author Tim Cooper and Professor Pat Price

An essential component of curative cancer treatment is radiotherapy. Radiotherapy cures cancer and is the most cost-effective cancer treatment. It is needed by 1 in 2 cancer patients and contributes to cure in 40% of cases. Radiotherapy is personalised to each patient, is extremely cost-effective, technologically advanced, innovative and incredibly versatile – being used anywhere in the cancer treatment pathway from curative treatment of early disease, to reducing pain as part of palliative care. In the UK, radiotherapy has high training standards and enjoys extremely high degrees of quality and safety.

However, a lack of long-term planning and investment in radiotherapy in the UK has led to piecemeal implementation of the new technologies and innovations. Delivering these in a strategic and coordinated manner through a National Plan for Radiotherapy could lead to improved patient outcomes and better quality of life, while also improving expertise and enhancing productivity. This lack of investment is reflected in low levels of access to radiotherapy in comparison to international standards (24-27% 1 in England compared to 52-53%,3,4 international estimates). 

Radiotherapy has the potential to transform cancer treatment, deliver extra capacity and enhance patient outcomes in the UK, but to do so requires clear and focused direction and a national ambition to deliver a level of world-class services that radiotherapy patients in comparable countries are currently accessing. This paper sets out an ambitious but realistic vision to show what can be achieved over the next decade, transform radiotherapy services across the UK and improve how long and well patients live. It puts patients at its heart, outlines what a world-class radiotherapy service looks like, and the steps that need to be taken to achieve that.

Realising this vision is in the hands of politicians, NHS and healthcare commissioners across the four nations. It is in their power to take the evidence-based actions laid out in this plan and transform them into positive change for cancer patients. Our belief is that making these changes and investing in the vision will lead to improved patient survival and quality of life. In doing so, by 2034, world-class radiotherapy could be a reality nationwide. Not doing so would contribute to a further decline in cancer services and failure to capitalise on technological advances that could save patient lives. 

The vision outlines six key areas of action to improve patient outcomes with higher cure rates and fewer side effects.

1. Leadership

Establish an independent, accountable UK-wide planning and strategic group that is supported by
healthcare commissioners across the four nations to create and deliver a new National Plan for
Radiotherapy. It should inform long-term policy and investment.

2. Access

Ensure equal access to radiotherapy across the four nations of the UK by 2034. Conduct a review of
waiting time targets to set a higher NHS standard to improve timely access to high quality, personalised
radiotherapy. Ensure, where required, that patients have access to late-effects support services. 

3. Workforce

Immediately put in place a plan to close the radiotherapy professionals’ workforce gap, currently
estimated at six hundred. Develop, fund and deliver a comprehensive 10-year radiotherapy-specific
workforce plan that creates a sustainable, flexible workforce that is equipped to harness advances in
healthcare system delivery. 

5. Research

Develop, fund and implement an integrated radiotherapy research strategy that encompasses
discovery and translational laboratory science, technological and imaging innovation, and clinical
evaluation via clinical trials, health systems and economics research. 

4. Data

Develop a single integrated data source from radiotherapy providers, which can drive improvement in patient outcomes by linking analyses to mechanisms that action the learning gained from data to deliver change quickly and effectively. 

6. Investment

Deliver long-term transformative investment attached to the implementation of a national plan
alongside development of a reimbursement system that equitably and sustainably funds radiotherapy
machines and technologies, including software and AI. Develop close academic and industry
partnerships to ensure current and future innovation is rapidly implemented.

Supported by Bryan Robson OBE

“Radiotherapy saved my life. It’s given me the priceless gift of time and memories with my friends and family. I strongly believe every UK cancer patient that needs radiotherapy should have access to a world-class service. Decision makers choosing to invest in and support radiotherapy services across the UK will quite simply save lives. I want to live in a country with cancer services that are the envy of the world – and radiotherapy can play a major part. For the sake of cancer patients, I ask all of us to use our influence to make this 10-year vision a reality.”
Bryan Robson OBE
Bryan Robson OBE
England and Manchester United football legend