Health Secretary Matt Hancock visited Cambridge University Hospitals last week to see how cutting edge technology can reduce cancer waiting times.
Hancock’s high-tech visit
Consultant oncologist Dr Raj Jena has been working with Microsoft Research for the past eight years on a machine learning tool to speed up preparation for radiotherapy treatment. Known as Project InnerEye, it can reduce by 90% the amount of time an experienced doctor must spend processing scans before a patient can receive potentially life-saving radiotherapy.
Speaking to Mr Hancock, Dr Jena explained: “Starting radiotherapy promptly improves cancer survival rates and reduces anxiety in newly diagnosed patients. But before any radiotherapy can take place, the oncologist must spend a significant amount of time – maybe one or two hours per patient – making sure the radiation will be delivered to the correct part of the body without damaging any healthy tissue.
“Using deep learning algorithms, the InnerEye technology can carry out this preparation as well as an expert clinician in just a few minutes. This means the doctor’s time is freed up, enabling them to get patients onto treatment more quickly. At Addenbrooke’s our goal is to start curative radiotherapy within 14 days, where the national target is 28 days in accordance with the National Cancer Plan. Project InnerEye helps us realise that goal.”
Mr Hancock also visited the Cambridge Breast Unit where consultant radiographer Kathryn Taylor demonstrated a new 3D mammography machine which enables abnormalities in the breast to be seen with much greater clarity. The kit, known as Hologic 3Dimensions, cost £269,500 and was installed earlier this year. It means that women who are called back following routine breast scans can get faster diagnosis and access the treatment they need more quickly.
He also spent time with a cross-section of staff from across the Trust, hearing about their experiences of the last few months and answering questions.
Director of Improvement and Transformation Dr Ewen Cameron said: “We were very pleased to welcome Matt Hancock to our hospitals to see how we are using world-leading technology to speed up and improve treatment for cancer patients, as well as reduce patient anxiety caused by having to wait for treatment.
“Following suspension of many of our services at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have worked incredibly hard to restart all our cancer screening programmes and imaging services. However, we face a challenge in dealing with increasing demand. It is by using smart technology like Project Inner Eye and 3D mammography to save clinical time and treat patients more quickly that we will be able to deliver excellent care that we strive to provide for all.”
Image: Health Secretary Matt Hancock visiting Addenbrooke’s Hospital with Chief Nurse Lorraine Szeremeta
Cambridge University Hospitals is one of the largest and best known trusts in the country. As the local hospital for our community we deliver care through Addenbrooke’s and the Rosie hospitals.