Revd Dr Mike Kirby - The Development of Satellite Radiotherapy Centres

Updated: Jan 14, 2019

Our latest guest blog is by Revd Dr Mike Kirby, a Lecturer in Radiotherapy Physics at the University of Liverpool, teaching on undergraduate and postgraduate therapeutic radiography courses. Mike has had a keen involvement in the development of satellite radiotherapy centres and in this blog he explains their important role in the delivery of today's UK radiotherapy service.

It was really interesting, in reflecting on Kim's previous blog, just how many of us as professionals working in radiotherapy have been doing so for long periods of time! It reminded me of how many of us do what we do for many years for the love of the profession and the care of our patients. I have reached a personal milestone recently: mid-October was my 30th anniversary of when I started in the NHS at the Christie in Manchester. Much indeed has changed in radiotherapy and the NHS as a whole since then. I’ve been so very fortunate to play my own small part in that development over the years as part of the team of highly skilled clinicians, radiographers, physicists and engineers who make radiotherapy possible for our patients. I’ve seen and helped with some of the technical developments in radiotherapy, from the use of multileaf collimators, computer networking and on-treatment imaged-guided radiotherapy. I’ve supported service development in expanding much-needed radiotherapy services into Lancashire (in helping to set up Rosemere Cancer Centre in Preston) and in developing the two satellite centres in the Christie network to serve the patients of Greater Manchester and beyond. Much has changed in how accurately and precisely we can deliver our treatments, and how we can best serve our patients around the region.

But the need for radiotherapy still grows, and our service is continually challenged to grow with it. As a scientific and medical profession, we learn best how to develop by sharing knowledge and experiences from our work in departments locally, nationally and internationally. I am a member of the British Institute of Radiology’s Radiotherapy Committee and we recently decided to arrange a meeting to examine how the provision of radiotherapy over the last decade has developed.

Expanding services through satellite radiotherapy centres, which are set up as a branch of a main radiotherapy centre with the exact same standards and precision, can help deliver radiotherapy closer to home. Radiotherapy treatment can last up to about seven weeks, meaning that our patients have a lot of travelling to do. Couple that with the physical and emotional challenges of having cancer, and it is a tough time for our patients. Satellite services can reduce travelling time for many patients and help us manage the growing need for clinical radiotherapy.

Mike in action at the meeting on Satallite centres

The meeting was designed over a year ago and was held in September; coinciding with the launch of the ‘Manifesto for Radiotherapy’ by the All Party Parliamentary Group for Radiotherapy (APPGRT), and its initiatives to try to heighten awareness of the need for radiotherapy. Many professionals from around the country, including members of the full multi-professional team from the NHS and private sector, came together in London to share experiences and discuss the success of satellite centres. Having started work with satellites myself over ten years ago, it was a prime time to look back on progress, as well as to discuss current projects and different models of delivery.

The day did not fail to deliver. We heard of great ingenuity in helping to deal with service provision and expansion challenges, how different models of satellite working have been developed through the use of technology (particularly through computer networking; sometimes over large distances across the country, and how precious human resources have been utilised to their fullest potential. Some centres have been working for many years now, fulfilling the original design needs and more. Other centres[km1] are on the cusp of starting clinical delivery. And others are sadly stalled by resource challenges and are struggling to serve the local population better.

From the meeting, it was clear how vital the satellite radiotherapy service is, how successful it can be and how difficult it is (resource-wise) to accomplish. We need to continue to strive for improvement across all fronts if, as a nation, we want our cancer cure rates to be better, as they are in many other countries across the world. Enhancing the early detection of cancer is crucial, but this depends on more staff and facilities in cancer centres across the country and their satellites, which is why initiatives like that of the APPGRT are so important in the continual fight against cancer.

I’ve witnessed the dedication of staff in this fight, but they are frustratingly limited by the restrictions in service provision. I would urge anyone reading this to join us in raising awareness of how effective radiotherapy is and how much more needs to be done. Together, we have the honour and privilege to help patients fight cancer and save lives. Thank you for reading this.