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Five year action planned to help beat cancer

Patients will be allowed to self-refer for diagnostic tests, under new plans designed to improve cancer survival rates

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 12 January 2015

Patients will be allowed to self-refer for diagnostic tests, under new plans launched by NHS England designed to improve cancer survival rates.

NHS England has announced a new independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services and a major new programme to test innovative ways of diagnosing cancer more quickly.

The taskforce has been asked to deliver the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, which calls for action on three fronts: better prevention; swifter diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer. Action is needed as survival rates for some cancers remain below the European average. 

Chaired by Cancer Research UK Chief Executive Harpal Kumar, the taskforce will include cancer specialist doctors and clinicians, patients groups and charity leaders, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Public Health England, local councils, and the Royal College of General Practitioners.

Alongside the taskforce, NHS England announced the launch of an early-diagnosis programme, working jointly with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, testing seven new approaches to identifying cancer more quickly. The aim is to evaluate a number of initiatives across more than 60 sites around the country to collect evidence on approaches that could be implemented from 2016/17. Initiatives will include: offering patients the option to self-refer for diagnostic tests; lowering referral thresholds for GPs; and multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres where patients can have several tests in the same place on the same day.

In addition, NHS England has announced the extension of its commissioning through Evaluation programme to stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR). This should enable the number of cancer patients eligible to access SABR treatment to rise by 750 new patients a year. The programme will widen the number of cancers being treated to include oligometastatic disease, primary liver tumours, spinal tumours, the re-irradiation of cancers in the pelvis and other selected indications. 

NHE England also plans to improve monitoring at a local level by including a one-year cancer survival indicator in the assurance system used to ensure Clinical Commissioning Groups are delivering.

Commenting, Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and head of the NHS cancer taskforce, said: “The Five-Year-Forward View has set out a compelling vision for the delivery of health services. We now need to turn the vision into a reality for the thousands of patients diagnosed with cancer every week. We also know that many more people will be diagnosed with cancer in the years ahead. Cancer Research UK is projecting an increase of a third in the number of cases over the next 15 years. So the time is right to set new ambitions and to take a fresh look at how we will meet this need. I am honoured to have been asked to lead this cross-system group which will address this.”

NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Cancer survival rates in England are at an all-time high, but too many patients are still being diagnosed late – up to one in four only when they present in A&E. So it’s time for a fresh look at how we can do even better – with more focus on prevention, earlier diagnosis and modern radiotherapy and other services so that over the next five years we can save at least 8,000 more lives a year.”

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