Page last updated at 12:03 GMT, Tuesday, 3 February 2009

X-ray surgery 'lacking' in UK

This aneurysm has been treated using interventional radiology
This aneurysm has been treated using interventional radiology

Patients are being denied a life-saving X-ray treatment because of the way NHS funding works, the UK's most senior radiologist has said.

Interventional radiology (IR) can be used in a range of procedures from "cooking" cancerous tumours to stemming blood loss in women after childbirth.

But the head of the Royal College of Radiologists says many hospitals are unable to offer an adequate service.

Professor Andy Adam is calling for an urgent review of funding for IR.

"The irony is that this would save money by preventing more costly and complicated surgical interventions being carried out."

But because IR has developed from within the field of diagnostics, it is currently funded from smaller radiology budgets rather than larger surgical ones, meaning IR is not available in the UK as it is the rest of the developed world, Professor Adam said.

He is also calling for an increase in the number of designated posts for trained IR professionals.

'Postcode lottery'

IR - sometimes know as "pinhole surgery" - uses images from X-ray or ultrasound to guide the doctor to the exact site of the problem.

There should at the very least be regional centres where such treatment can be obtained
Virginia Beckett

The blood supply to tumours can then be cut off - or embolised - and radiofrequency heat used to effectively "cook" the growth. Arteries can also be blocked to stop internal bleeding after an accident, or post-partum haemorrhage in women.

"At the moment there is a genuine postcode lottery when it comes to accessing this service - and it could genuinely save lives," Professor Adam said.

"Surgery to stop internal bleeding in someone who has had a major accident is much riskier than using interventional radiology."

There are also cost implications, he added. A hysterectomy, which costs in excess of 3,000, is the traditional surgical treatment for fibroids. But these can be embolised using IR in a much more straightforward procedure.

Virginia Beckett, a spokeswoman for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, agreed that interventional radiology "was not available as it should be".

"It may not be possible for every hospital - and it's not always practical in an emergency - but there should at the very least be regional centres where such treatment can be obtained - it shouldn't be the struggle to organise which is currently is."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The Department shares the concerns expressed by Professor Adam, has recently held discussions with the Royal College of Radiologists on this issue and is planning further discussions with him and the College."

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