Millions of UK patients living in cancer care deserts – 7.5 million living over the recommended 45 minutes from their closest radiotherapy service


  • New research from Radiotherapy UK finds that, when driving, 7.4 million people in the UK are living in cancer care deserts more than 45 minutes from their closest radiotherapy centre.
  • Travel times are seen as the most important radiotherapy patient concern.
  • Radiotherapy UK is calling for ringfenced funding for radiotherapy services to ensure equity of access to high-quality radiotherapy services to improve patient outcomes.

Radiotherapy UK has today released a new report further highlighting the crisis in radiotherapy services across the UK. Current government guidelines indicate that cancer patients should live within 45-minutes of radiotherapy treatment, with exceptions for specialised services. Yet the new report, titled “Equity of Access to Cancer Treatment”, shows that, when driving, an estimated 7.4 million people in the UK do not meet this standard, equating to 11% of the population.

Leading oncologist and chair of Radiotehrapy UK, Professor Pat Price said:

“Patients in this country are facing devastating cancer care deserts all because we don’t fund radiotherapy properly. When it comes to cancer, where you live shouldn’t determine if you live. But sadly, this desperate lack of access to radiotherapy cancer treatments is proven to have an impact on cancer survival. Half of all cancer patients should get radiotherapy, but we are nowhere near that level. The case for enhanced accessibility to radiotherapy across the UK is overwhelming, and it should be a matter of concern for every policymaker and part of the country. We must bridge this gap to ensure every patient has swift access to life-saving treatments.”

With 1 in 2 people facing a cancer diagnosis, and half those diagnosed needing radiotherapy, the charity is calling on the the Government to act. The leading cancer charity’s analysis comes after international research in the Lancet Oncology links poor access to radiotherapy with reduced cancer survival.  In 2019, only 24-27% of English cancer patients received it as primary treatment, far below the international standard of 50%.

To help increase access and uptake of radiotherapy services, Radiotherapy UK is calling on the Government to rapidly conduct a study to analyse why UK uptake of radiotherapy is so much lower than comparable countries. From these findings, the UK should create and implement a dedicated radiotherapy plan. Other key asks include:

  • An assessment to find where additional radiotherapy treatment capacity would have the most immediate impact on patient outcomes and NHS cancer waiting times.
  • Ringfenced investment for radiotherapy services, including funding for workforce development and expansion, and equipment upgrades.
  • Working with patients and patient organisations to understand the impact of travel times on the patient journey.

Longer travel times for cancer patients have a myriad of impacts. Long travel times generally equate to more expensive trips for patients wanting to receive life-saving treatment. Long travel times can further exhaust patients who are already putting their bodies and minds under significant strain. And, ultimately, long travel times can have a negative impact on patient survival.

By expanding access to radiotherapy services across the UK, the Government can improve patient outcomes, lower NHS cancer waiting times, and receive the best value for money of any available cancer treatment.

Find out more about the work of Radiotherapy UK here: Radiotherapy UK