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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 May, 2003, 14:17 GMT 15:17 UK
Hospital 'denied' cancer machines
Woman being screened for breast cancer
The equipment would save lives, says the hospital
Life-saving equipment offered to a leading cancer hospital in a government drive to improve treatment is not being used because the running costs cannot be met, BBC Radio 4's File On 4 programme has found.

The Christie Hospital in Manchester, which treats 11,000 new patients a year, says it was promised five machines costing a total of 2m for radiotherapy and diagnostic treatment in a national cancer scheme.

Clinical director Dr Ron Stout said the equipment never arrived because the local primary care trusts, which allocate such running costs to hospitals, could not pay the annual 3m bill for the running of the radiotherapy machines.

"If we don't take these linear accelerators now they will go to another part of the country and we will never see them again," he said.

There are some patients who with that long delay will move from being potentially curable to being treatable but not curable any more
Dr Ron Stout

"One would hope that appropriate support would be given by the government to the primary care trusts to solve this problem.

"I'm not an economist, I'm not a politician. I don't quite understand why that hasn't been done but it is so ludicrous that we find ourselves in this position."

Dr Stout, a lung cancer specialist, said for some patients getting the new machines would mean reduced waiting times and the difference between life and death.

"I think inevitably waiting lists will get longer because there's quite a demographic change taking place in Manchester.

"Over the next few years there'll be an approximate 20% increase in the population in the age range 45 to 65 and this is the age range which places the greatest demands on radiotherapy treatment.

"There are some patients who with that long delay will move from being potentially curable to being treatable but not curable any more."

Business plan

The government's pledge of new equipment forms part of the national cancer plan, launched two-and-a-half years ago to get UK survival rates in line with the rest of Europe.

But it is feared the 2005 targets will not be met if hospitals are left to persuade debt-ladden primary care trusts that money for new machinery must remain a top priority.

The primary care trusts in Greater Manchester said they were still in discussion with the Christie Hospital and had requested a detailed business case for the running costs.

A spokeswoman said: "Primary care trusts across Greater Manchester are investing roughly an additional 5.7m this year in specialist cancer services, of which around 3.7m will go to the Christie Hospital."

This edition of File On 4 is broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2000 BST on Tuesday 27 May and at 1700 BST on Sunday 1 June.

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