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Labour to invest in GP cancer equipment in ‘every town’

New equipment and simple tests alone don’t allow quicker access and better results, says BMA

Louise Prime

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Labour has promised that it will invest in new equipment in GP surgeries to improve cancer diagnosis, and replace outdated radiotherapy machines in treatment centres across England, if a Labour Government is elected in May. GP leaders have welcomed the prospect of further investment, but pointed out that these measures could not be successful without more GPs and specialist staff, and long enough appointments, to properly consult with and diagnose patients, refer them appropriately and interpret test results.

Labour leader Ed Miliband yesterday criticised the government for trying to ‘slip out’, in the final minutes before the dissolution of the current Parliament, the bad news that the NHS does not now expect to meet the cancer target for people to begin treatment within two months of urgent referral this year, which he said could leave 23,000 cancer patients waiting more than two months to start treatment. He said that, in contrast, his party would deliver a one-week cancer guarantee early on in the next Parliament. He promised yesterday:

  • A new investment of £150m each year from 2016/17 in new diagnostic infrastructure to make it possible to do more tests directly in GP surgeries by ensuring key equipment is available in every town.
  • A new Cancer Treatments Fund, to be put in place after the Cancer Drugs Fund expires in 2016, to help kick start the urgent replacement of outdated radiotherapy machines. He claimed that in spite of official NHS guidance that machines should be replaced every 10 years, a recent Labour Freedom of Information request revealed that one in five machines in NHS radiotherapy centres are older than that.

Ed Miliband said: “The next stage of our fully-funded plan [is] an investment of £150m a year, every year in the key equipment patients need to get quick access to cancer tests and improve early diagnosis ... Speeding up cancer tests will help reduce the anxiety of waiting for a test result, improve early diagnosis, and ensure those who need it can start treatment sooner. And we know that early diagnosis dramatically improves the chances of successful treatment while saving the NHS on the costs of late intervention.” He said the money to pay for this would be raised through a Mansion Tax, closing loopholes used by hedge funds and imposing a new levy on tobacco firms.

The BMA responded that more investment in equipment was, although always welcome, neither a straightforward nor a sufficient solution to the problem. Chair of its GP Committee Dr Chaand Nagpaul (pictured) said: “We support any measures that can help to increase the early detection of cancer. However, while further investment is always welcome, we must avoid the trap of thinking that new equipment and simple tests will allow quicker access and better results.

“For many cancers, the diagnosis is not a case of a simple test that gives a yes or no answer. The symptoms can be complex and a diagnosis or suspicion of cancer is often arrived at by observing a clinical history and examination which needs sufficient time in consultations. GPs are constrained by having to see patients in short 10 minute appointments due to unprecedented demand with a shortage in numbers of GPs nationally.

“In order for this new proposal for testing equipment to be successful, we must ensure that we have enough GPs and specialised staff to consult with a patient, diagnose their symptoms, refer them for the appropriate tests, and interpret the results. It is equally important that at a time when the NHS is under unprecedented pressure, we provide a holistic service and ensure rapid access to all services for all conditions.”

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