NHS England is accelerating the launch of a new type of radiotherapy that requires fewer doses than current approaches, thus cutting the number of hospital visits for potentially vulnerable cancer patients.

Stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) is a very precise method using a high dose of radiations with only around five outpatient visits, compared to conventional radiotherapy which needs 20 – 30 treatments.

Rather than full rollout by 2022, it will now be available across the NHS by the end of this financial year, with every part of the country offering SABR treatment for non-small cell lung cancer and those with lung, lymph nodes and non-spine bone oligometastatic disease, in radiotherapy units nationwide.

Further rollout for other disease types is planned for 2021/22.

The move to offer more convenient and potentially safer forms of treatment comes as cancer services are struggling to cope with a backlog of patients who are more vulnerable to coronavirus and thus have been unable to get treatment during the pandemic.

Cancer Research UK said earlier this month that around 2.4 million people in the UK are waiting for cancer screening, further tests or cancer treatment, following disruption to cancer services across the country.

As such, local hospitals have also increased treatment outside of hospital including fast-tracking the use of ‘chemo buses’ so people can receive life-saving care without having to travel long distances.

The buses have space for clinical teams to give chemo to four patients at a time, either directly outside of the hospital or in a convenient location for patients.

Hospitals have also significantly increased the use of chemo at home, with local pharmacy teams and community nurses providing the service to reduce cancer patients’ risk of exposure to the virus.

The NHS has this week set out steps to treat more patients safely, including carrying out multiple same day tests to minimise patient visits and expand cancer hubs so that surgeries can be restored to pre pandemic levels.

This action joins a series of measures, including the rollout of ‘covid protected’ cancer hubs for treatment and online consultations so people do not have to go to hospitals for regular checks.

“While the NHS has pulled out all the stops to care for nearly 100,000 older and vulnerable patients who have needed emergency hospital treatment for COVID-19, staff have also worked hard to sustain other services including A&E, maternity care and treatment for urgent and emergency conditions,” said NHS chief executive Simon Stevens.

“Hospitals are going to great lengths to deliver care and treatment for patients in a safe space, from online consultations to chemo buses and COVID-free surgical hubs. The NHS is also accelerating access to new treatment options, including SABR – a potentially life-saving form of precision radiotherapy for people with cancer.”