Improving Cancer Care in England
New details have been announced including a target of 95 per cent of patients receiving a diagnosis, or told that they don’t have cancer, within 28 days of being referred by a GP. The target should be in effect by 2020. It will cost £300m per year until then to implement.
It has been recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce and will initially be tested in five hospitals. The plan will be rolled out nationally if it’s successful.
The Taskforce claims that quicker diagnosis could save 11,000 lives every year. Under the new measures cancer patients will also be given online access to their test results.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK lagged behind other western European countries in cancer survival rates and the new measures would help to “close the gap”.
“We know that the biggest single factor that means that our cancer survival rates lag those of France, Germany and other European countries is the fact that we have too much late diagnosis; we don't get an answer to people quickly enough,” he said.
Mr Hunt said he was making “a very simple promise to all NHS patients” that by 2020 they would have a cancer diagnosis or an all-clear within 28 days.
But, despite Mr Hunt’s promise, the Department of Health later said that although it hoped to achieve the Independent Cancer Taskforce target of 95 per cent by 2020, it would only know if this was viable after the trials were completed.
Mr Hunt added that increasing the speed of diagnosis would require additional cancer consultants, specialist nurses, staff trained in endoscopies and diagnostic tests.
At present 280,000 people in England are diagnosed with cancer each year, and half survive for at least 10 years.
Under existing targets patients are supposed to see a specialist within two weeks of being referred by a GP. However, they might then have to wait a long time for test results, which means an increasing number of patients fail to start their treatment within the recommended maximum of 62 days.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chairman of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said services for diagnosing cancer were under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff were so important.
He said: “Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner.”
The announcement follows warnings from a cross-party group of MPs that cancer services had “lost momentum” in the past two years.
The Public Accounts Committee warned that the NHS has been struggling to meet waiting times and has suffered from a reduction in resources.
Juliet Bouverie of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We desperately need to see continued action from the government and the NHS to ensure that all the recommendations laid out in the recently published Cancer Strategy for England are fully funded and implemented.”