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Tuesday, 19 December, 2000, 12:49 GMT
Cancer drug specialists 'in short supply'
Chemotherapy can be provided in local hospitals
Chemotherapy can be provided in local hospitals
Many cancer patients do not get access to experts with specialist knowledge of administering chemotherapy drugs, doctors have warned.

A report from the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) says centres which treat cancer sufferers as in-patients should have direct access to a doctor with specialist expertise in chemotherapy.

We all agree that we have too few oncologists at the moment

Professor Mike Richards, Cancer Tzar
However, according to the RCP there are 20 cancer centres in the UK which have such doctors - who are known as medical oncologists.

The government's 'Cancer Tzar', Professor Mike Richards, has responded to the report by stressing that the NHS Cancer Plan sets a target of increasing the number of medical oncologists by 155 by 2006.

Cancer can be treated in a range of ways, by surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and palliative care.

Half of all patients treated for cancer of the bowel, breast and lung receive chemotherapy.

Medical oncologists specialise in providing chemotherapy treatment. Clinical oncologists provide both radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

'Dearth' of experts

Dr Michael Cullen, chair of the RCP medical oncology working party, said the college supported the target set out in the NHS Plan.

But he said: "What our report highlights is the distribution, centres where there is a dearth of medical oncology experts. Centres like Coventry have no medical oncologists, Kings Lynn does."

Cancer care is provided in networks. Specialist cancer centres are linked to cancer units, often in district general hospitals (DGHs).

Dr Cullen said chemotherapy could, and should be delivered as close to patient's homes as possible.

"Chemotherapy can be delivered in DGHs - as long as there are staff there to do it."

More needed

Professor Richards, said: "We all agree that we have too few oncologists at the moment.

"And we know that they are unevenly distributed, and that's true whether you count by cancer centre or by region.

"This report helps to highlight the gaps."

He added: "Because of geographical differences across the country, its impossible to dictate from the centre exactly what the configuration should be.

"What we need is oncologists available throughout the cancer network."

The RCP report is entitled 'The Cancer Patient's Physician'.

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