Hospitals are failing to make use of sophisticated and expensive treatment technology, the Taxpayers’ Alliance has claimed.
The group analysed figures obtained under a freedom of information request from 187 English NHS trusts. They claim the research shows that use of linear accelerators, devices used to treat cancer, fell well below expected standards.
The National Radiotherapy Advisory Group recommends 8,000 doses per machine per year, but the research revealed an average number of 7,191.
While 11 trusts achieved the recommended level, the report uncovered widespread variations across the country, with Hull and East Yorkshire Hospitals Trust and University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust providing fewer than 5,000 doses per machine.
The study claimed that if all trusts falling below the recommended level increased their use to the national average, an extra 128,758 doses could be provided - equivalent to 18 more Linac machines.
NHS Confederation policy director Nigel Edwards said: “Having fewer pieces of equipment just so everything runs at maximum capacity will not result in better care as often sick patients will have to travel further to get treated.
“There are also good clinical reasons why you might want to keep some machines on standby and not use them all the time. For some patients in emergencies it could mean the difference between life and death.
“Sophisticated technology will often require highly trained staff which may also have an impact on utilisation as will the prevalence of the conditions for which it is designed.
“The figures remind us that equipment must always be used more efficiently but present a limited picture of how technology can be best utilised to provide the highest standards of care for patients.”
A spokesman from University College London Hospitals Foundation Trust said: “UCLH is one of the country’s leading teaching hospital trusts and as a result sees a high number of patients requiring complex radiotherapy techniques which may take longer to deliver. In addition we treat the largest number of children with cancer in the UK and they require specialist radiotherapy and time to feel comfortable with the machinery using the support of play specialists. Consequently, our linear accelerators may be used for fewer patient episodes but we are meeting all our waiting list targets and the machines are continually in use.”