Sunday, February 08, 2009

Lives put at risk by lack of new X-ray facilities, claims senior British doctor

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

Interventional radiology can be used in a range of procedures from destroying cancerous tumours to stemming blood loss in women after childbirth. But the head of the Royal College of Radiologists said many hospitals are unable to offer an adequate service. "The irony is that this would save money by preventing more costly and complicated surgical interventions being carried out," said Professor Andy Adam who is calling for an urgent review of funding for the technique. He claims that because the treatment, known as IR, comes out of the relatively small radiology budget and not the larger surgical one, it means that the technique is not being employed enough. He is calling for an increase in the number of designated posts for trained IR professionals.

IR - sometimes known as "pinhole surgery" - uses images from X-ray or ultrasound to guide the doctor to the exact site of the problem. The blood supply to tumours can then be cut off and radio frequency heat used to effectively "cook" the growth. Arteries can also be blocked to stop internal bleeding after an accident, or a haemorrhage in women caused by childbirth.

"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."

Virginia Beckett, a spokesman 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."


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