Kim Meeking - Why Radiotherapy needs a Boost

Updated: Aug 29, 2018

Kim Meeking is a Radiotherapy Research Advanced Practitioner at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and is a member of the Action Radiotherapy Champions Network. Kim shares her perspective on why we need your signature

Happy anniversary! And, what is it that you do again?

This week is my 16-year anniversary of working in radiotherapy. Cue much celebration for being part of a such a rewarding profession, and time for a little reflection. So many changes! Huge technical advances; IMRT (Intensity Modulated Radiotherapy) has been a game changer, to think that when I started out, our machines didn’t even have MLCs (Multi-leaf collimators), instead we would fix a piece of lead to a plate attached to the head of the machine. (Gulp. Feeling old). As a profession we have advanced too; I think there’s more structure now, more opportunities to diversify; we have technical and site-specific specialist roles and well-structured Masters programs providing the education to underpin specialisation. Despite technical and professional advances, public perception of radiotherapy remains low. There are still many misconceptions about what the treatment is and how it works; And then there’s misconceptions about Us. Who delivers the treatment? Is it a doctor? No! Is it a nurse? No! It’s a therapeutic radiographer -wait, a what?

Ever since I started out as a radiographer, I have felt the nag of being in a profession that is not quite understood, often not even heard of. Radiographers reading this… how many times have you had to explain what you do? It’s frustrating right? How many times have you been referred to as a nurse? (Nurses, you are great, don’t get me wrong. But you know that feeling when someone forgets your name at a party? Awkward). It isn’t really surprising when there are over 300,000 nurses in the NHS and only 3000 therapeutic radiographers. We are small in numbers so we have a small voice.

On top of lack of awareness about the profession, there’s more confusion about the treatment itself. Perceived by some as old fashioned, (it’s been around since the early 1900’s), or by others as bewildering space-age tech. Some may think of radiation as dangerous, after all, exposure to radiation can cause cancer. Surgery and chemotherapy are far easier to grasp, and make better headlines too; a quick google reveals “Cancer Killing Drug Could Change Everything” – it is hard to compete with that, right?

Being part of a little known profession and delivering a hard-to-understand treatment has bigger implications than my radiographer colleagues and I needing a snappy explanation of what we do at parties. Why? Because things that are hard to understand are easy to ignore. It’s very difficult to draw attention to something that you can’t wrap your head around.

But we do need to draw attention to radiotherapy. UK radiotherapy services are vastly underfunded. The UK government only spends 5% of the annual cancer budget on radiotherapy services [1]. A 5% spend on a treatment that more than half of all cancer patients receive. The impact of this is that many departments are using radiotherapy machines that need updating or replacing. Older equipment is more likely to break down & many departments are running at (or over) maximum capacity with staff having to work weekends to make up for machine break downs. Many patients don’t have access to the most advanced radiotherapy techniques, techniques that reduce side effects and can lead to improved survival. Other countries spend more of their cancer budget on radiotherapy (9% in Australia, 11% average across Europe), and this shows in their cancer survival stats compared to the UK [2].

We really need sustained increased investment in equipment and our workforce in order to deliver a world-class service. But being a small profession, having a small voice makes it so hard to get this message across and have any meaningful impact. Thankfully there is now a group set up whose job it is to raise this issue at government level. An ‘APPG’ or ‘All Party Parliamentary Group’. APPGs are not new, there has been a Cancer APPG since 1998. But this APPG is the first one dedicated to radiotherapy. The group consists of MPs across different political parties and experts in the field of radiotherapy. The group will campaign for better radiotherapy services. They have developed a manifesto and there is now a petition to Government on the need for increased investment. As I write this there are 3341 signatures. Ahh… 3342!... 3343! Many more thousands are needed to get radiotherapy investment debated in parliament (have you signed?). It’s a chance to make our voice that little bit louder and improve radiotherapy services for the one in four of us that will need it.

It is great to have an opportunity to write a blog for Action Radiotherapy. If you didn’t know already, Action Radiotherapy is a charity dedicated to raising the profile of radiotherapy and providing dedicated information for both patients and professionals. It is supported by a network of radiotherapy professionals, myself included. Action Radiotherapy is supporting the radiotherapy APPG. Find out more about Action Radiotherapy here .


1. Social and General Statistics, House of Commons Library, 2018

2. Economic burden of cancer across the European Union. A population based cost analysis. Lancet Oncology, 2013