Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy

Part of Petition — Proposed Closure of Rio Tinto Alcan, Lynemouth – in the House of Commons at 7:07 pm on 8th February 2012.

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Photo of Tessa Munt Tessa Munt Liberal Democrat, Wells 7:07 pm, 8th February 2012

I could not agree more. As the hon. Lady and others are well aware, I have spoken with her constituent, Mr Withers, and it is clear that radiosurgery is a well-established and proven therapy—it is just that we have to wait to get it.

In an answer to a parliamentary question, I was told that a price tag would not be set up until 2014. NCAT must be the only organisation in the NHS that believes it should take three years from the point that an esteemed committee recommends a national tariff until one can be implemented. From what they tell me, the centres do not believe it, and I do not believe it, and I do not think that the Minister believes it. The question of establishing an SBRT tariff, as recommended in the report from NRIG last April, is not just a question of the administration involved in setting up some codes so that the NHS can cost it; this lack of tariff has a direct impact on cancer patients’ lives.

Let me tell the Minister about my friend Kerry Dunn, a 42-year-old mother from Somerset who was diagnosed with cancer. Last September, her clinicians in Bristol concluded that the only treatment available that could save her life was SBRT on CyberKnife. The CyberKnife experts in London agreed. Her clinicians applied for funding from North Somerset primary care trust, but it took them two months before it refused. It said no because, according to it, there was not enough evidence to suggest that CyberKnife would work.

It is important that the Minister fully understands the train of events in this case. Kerry Dunn’s clinician in Bristol, one of the leading oncologists in the country, believed that CyberKnife could treat her, and the clinicians in London, who routinely use CyberKnife to treat cancer, said that they could treat her, but the bean-counters on North Somerset PCT thought otherwise. Kerry Dunn told me what had happened at the beginning of December. She and her family were in absolute despair over this decision. Once I had contacted North Somerset PCT and after the local press had, separately, taken an interest in her case, the PCT allowed Kerry Dunn to appeal its decision. Three weeks after the first decision, the PCT changed its mind and agreed her funding for CyberKnife.

If Members were expecting a happy ending to this story, I am sorry to disappoint them. Kerry went straight back to the CyberKnife people in London, but her tumour had grown so much that they could no longer treat her. Kerry and her family now face an uncertain future. Three months earlier, there was considerable hope that she would beat her cancer.

The Minister will know as well as I do that if the NRIG report had been implemented last April and an SBRT tariff set at that time, North Somerset PCT would not have delayed approval for Kerry’s treatment and she would be a much healthier woman than she is today. Over the past 12 months, the Department of Health has painted a very different picture of the provision of SBRT in the NHS. I must say to the Minister that I am shocked by the disparities between what the Secretary of State has told me and what all the hospitals have told me in answer to my freedom of information requests. Knowing the Minister as well as I do, I trust that it has more to do with his officials keeping him in the dark than their misleading hon. Members.

In conclusion, I would like some answers from the Minister today. Will he instruct the National Cancer Action Team to conduct a full review of the SBRT facilities available in the NHS? That review should establish whether hospitals are using technology that is fit for purpose and can treat a wide range of tumours with SBRT, and whether hospitals are conducting the number of procedures needed to comply with the NRIG recommendations. Will he commit to speeding up the process of establishing an SBRT tariff in line with the NRIG recommendations, and will he start immediately by asking NCAT to establish a costing code? Finally, I would like a commitment from him to investigate why decisions to fund SBRT by PCTs can ignore clinical opinions of medical professionals when assessing the need for treatment for people such as Kerry Dunn.