Radiotherapy equipment part of massive investment in improving services in county
A new £1.9m radiotherapy machine is now giving Cumbrian cancer patients access to the most up-to-date technology in England.
The linear accelerator (LINAC) is part of a bigger investment, totalling more than £30m, in improving cancer services in the county.
Situated at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary, the new LINAC replaces aging technology and makes it possible for patients to access treatment currently only available at more specialist centres, such as Newcastle and Preston.
It is one of two new high-tech machines being installed by North Cumbria University Hospitals NHS Trust, the second of which will be operational within two years.
It follows news that a new state of the art cancer centre is to be built on the Carlisle site, where the condemned old tower block currently stands. The new LINAC, replacing one of two much older radiotherapy machines, is the first key milestone, giving certain patients access to improved care.
It is now being used to treat about 30 patients a day.
It was officially launched by Carlisle MP John Stevenson at a celebratory ceremony at the hospital.
The first patients to benefit from the new machine are prostate and lung cancer patients, who are now getting much more precise radiotherapy that reduces the risk of damage to other organs and speeds up their treatment.
One of the first to receive treatment on the new LINAC was Archie Hurley, 70, of Wigton, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November.
He said: “I was apprehensive at first but the staff have been marvelous.
“They put me at ease and the treatment was absolutely fine.
“I had to have radiotherapy five days a week for four weeks.
“It was much better than I’d feared, really easy.
“It didn’t bother me at all. I’ve had no bad effects. I’m still playing walking football and doing my allotment.”
For years hospital staff have been lobbying for a dedicated cancer centre and investment to upgrade the technology available.
Suzanne Stanley, a radiographer and radiotherapy services manager at the hospital trust, said the new machine – along with a high-tech new computer system that allows more precise targeting – will make treatment more accurate, reduce the risk of side effects and allow more patients to be treated in Carlisle.
“This is fabulous. It’s what we’ve been wanting for years. It allows us to image in much more detail and really target the dose of radiation,” she said.
The new LINAC replaces one of the trust’s older radiotherapy machines, which was 12 years old.
They are generally recommended for replacement every 10 years.
Another older machine is still in use for those who need standard radiotherapy, but will eventually be replaced.
In the meantime, the new one is being largely used by those who would benefit from more advanced treatment.
Mrs Stanley stressed that the older machine is still working well and no patients would have their treatment compromised by using it.
“The machines we have been using are still fit for purpose in delivering standard radiotherapy. Not all patients need advanced radiotherapy. Nobody who needs the new machine will have to wait for it,” she said.
As well as prostate and lung cancer, those with bladder and colorectal cancers may also benefit.
Long term they also hope to bring head and neck cancer patients who currently have to travel to Newcastle for treatment back to Carlisle, as well as being able to improve treatment for gynaecological and upper gastro cancers.
The new LINAC is also much quicker and has allowed staff to reduce the number of sessions needed by prostate patients from 37 to 20 – almost halving the number of daily journeys they have to make to hospital for radiotherapy.
Stephen Eames, chief executive of the hospital trust, described the launch of the new machine – which he admitted many long-serving staff thought would never happen – as a “watershed moment” for local cancer care.
He said the old LINAC was “on its last legs”, whereas the new machine is comparable to those in Newcastle, Preston and Edinburgh.
He said: “The main thing to stress is that this is the start of a massive investment in cancer care for the people of Cumbria.
“More work that has traditionally gone further afield to Newcastle will be able to stay here.”
Carlisle MP Mr Stevenson, who officially cut the ribbon, added: “It’s fantastic to see this high-tech equipment arriving in north Cumbria.
“This is cutting edge stuff. There are only 15 trusts in the country that have this technology and we are one of them.
“I think the hospitals are now on a positive trajectory. We are out of special measures and making real improvements to patient care.”
Hospital bosses praised radiotherapy staff for going above the call of duty while the new LINAC was being installed, working extra hours and putting on evening clinics to ensure no patients had their cancer treatment delayed as a result.