Spotlight on: Alison Vinall, former Head of Radiotherapy Physics

Alison is a clinical scientist and until her recent retirement was our Head of Radiotherapy Physics.

Alison received the “Lifetime Achievement” award at this year’s Staff Awards.

Clinical scientists in radiotherapy are responsible for the science side of treating cancer patients with radiation. They are involved in treatment planning where an individual computer-generated plan, showing doses of radiation to different organs of the body, is produced.

“The plan aims to deliver as much radiation as possible to the tumour and as little radiation elsewhere to healthy tissue and critical organs,” said Alison.

Alison also held overall responsibility for the safety and accuracy of the machines that are used to deliver the radiotherapy. These machines, known as linear accelerators, require Quality Assurance checks to be carried out on a regular basis to ensure safe treatment delivery to patients.

Following 16 years working in London, Alison moved to Norwich in 1999, just as our new hospital was being built. Alison and her team were responsible for commissioning all the equipment in the new Radiotherapy Department and ensuring its safe operation.

“This was the chance to move processes from largely paper based to electronic systems,” added Alison.

“Alongside my colleagues we achieved a number of ‘firsts’. It was the first department in the UK, and only the second in the world, to use portal dosimetry for quality assurance of patients undergoing intensity modulated radiotherapy treatment where the radiation beam is varied across the tumour volume so that higher doses can be delivered.”

The Department has introduced many different treatment techniques over the years under Alison’s leadership, all designed to improve the accuracy, effectiveness and safety of radiotherapy treatment for patients.

“I was also responsible for radiation protection issues both within radiotherapy and in the Trust,” she said.

“At times I got a call in the middle of the night either because of an alarm on the brachytherapy machine or a radioactive drain was overflowing.”

Alison has sat on a number of working parties and committees on behalf of her professional body IPEM (Institute of Physics and Engineering in Medicine) and continues to serve as a trustee for the College of Radiographers.

“I will deeply miss all the colleagues I worked with and the privilege of applying physics to medicine on behalf of patients,” she said.

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