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Long waits for cancer radiotherapy at N&N

PUBLISHED: 17:02 11 May 2009 | UPDATED: 09:29 06 July 2010

Cancer patients at Norfolk's biggest hospital are facing delays in receiving radiotherapy because of a shortage of radiographers.

People who need radiotherapy after having their tumour removed are having to wait eight weeks and sometimes longer, which is worse than the national standard of a maximum six-week wait.

Cancer patients at Norfolk's biggest hospital are facing delays in receiving radiotherapy because of a shortage of radiographers.

People who need radiotherapy after having their tumour removed are having to wait eight weeks and sometimes longer, adding to the stress and worry of their treatment. The national standard is a maximum six-week wait.

The Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital says that the delays are not damaging people's health. It is prioritising emergency cases and those who have radiation as their main cancer treatment. People who need radiotherapy after surgery are lower priority, because the extra benefit of radiotherapy for them is smaller.

Consultant oncologist Tom Roques said that for those people, "treatment at some time is important but some delays will not affect outcome".

The N&N has 34 radiographers but another 13 vacancies. It has offered jobs to six radiographers who will qualify this summer, and has taken on some agency staff in the mean time.

Dr Roques said: "There is currently a delay in treating some non-urgent cancer patients with radiotherapy at the N&N. We particularly under-stand the anxiety caused by not knowing when a treatment will commence. We have written to all patients currently waiting for treatment to explain the situation and will continue to endeavour to assign starting dates as quickly as possible.

"There is adequate capacity to treat all patients safely but this variability in demand inevitably leads to waits at some times."

He said there were national shortages of radiographers, and that the hospital was working hard to recruit and retain staff. He said that the waiting time for people who have had surgery is eight weeks from referral.

But Diana Pick, from Hingham, has already been waiting nine weeks following her surgery for breast cancer.

She said: "I just cannot get on with my life. I cannot fault the nurses and the surgeons and the people who are trying to help, but it feels as though they are in overload. I am sure there are other people who have had more surgery than me and they are not getting treatment either. There is some kind of problem here and I would like to see it resolved."

Mrs Pick and her husband Sam have expressed their concerns to the hospital's patient advice and liaison service, but could not be given a date when she would get radiography.

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