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NHS England promises world-class cancer services

Cancer Alliances to assess where local areas need to improve diagnosis and outcomes

Louise Prime

Thursday, 12 May 2016

More cancers will be prevented, cancer diagnosis sped up, survival rates increased and patient experience improved under new plans* to “deliver world class cancer services”, NHS England announced this morning. The plans include new Cancer Alliances to pinpoint areas where local improvement is needed, asking commissioners to collaborate with others on prevention strategies, improving response to GPs’ increasing demand for diagnostic testing, and encouraging appropriate GP follow up after diagnosis and treatment.

NHS England said it has made a £15m initial and immediate investment for a major programme of work to support earlier and faster diagnosis of cancer, and that it will make “the investment required to deliver a modern, high-quality service”. Cancer charities have welcomed the plans, but insisted that NHS England and the Government must show clearly how they will support their implementation with the necessary, ringfenced funding.

The National Cancer Transformation Board plans include:

  • Clinical and other leaders working together locally in Cancer Alliances (starting this September) to use whole pathway data in the new Cancer Dashboard – including survival, early diagnosis rates, treatment outcomes, patient experience and quality of life – to pinpoint areas for improvement. NHSE said they “will be able to provide cancer-specific leadership for the new sustainability and transformation plan (STP) footprints”.
  • Significantly reducing the 40% of cancers caused by behavioural, lifestyle and environmental factors by engaging clinicians, commissioners and local authority providers in new initiatives to change behaviour, increasing public awareness of risk factors and health promotion, especially with vulnerable groups.
  • Ensuring that diagnostic services are ready and able to respond to rising demand so that people are diagnosed quickly (the Five Year Forward View included 7% growth in overall diagnostic activity year on year to 2020/21). Demand is already rising for diagnostic tests because of the ageing population, as well as the effectiveness of initiatives to raise public awareness and support GPs – over 1.5 million urgent GP referrals for suspected cancer were made last year, an increase of 50% in the past four years.
  • Accelerating the commissioning and provision of services to support people affected by cancer. By working through a ‘Recovery Package’, patients and clinicians assess patients’ holistic needs and plan appropriately for their care and support. They ensure that a ‘treatment summary’ is sent between a patient’s hospital and their GP, that they are appropriately followed up by their GP, and can attend ‘health and wellbeing events’ for patients and carers.

Cally Palmer, national cancer director for England, said: “Through this cancer strategy we will drive a transformation in cancer care that will touch every corner of the country and improve services for thousands of people … This is an ambitious plan which, over the next four years, provides us with an exciting opportunity to make a real difference to cancer patients everywhere.”

Dr Fran Woodard, executive director of policy and impact at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We hope that added investment in early diagnosis and the setting up of Cancer Alliances will play an important part in tackling recurring problems such as missed waiting time targets. We are also pleased to see commitments in the plan to ensure more people benefit from personalised care after treatment. But it is not clear how these parts of the strategy will be funded over the next five years.

“NHS England and the Government must set out how they propose to fund this essential part of the cancer strategy if the improvements described in the plan are to be delivered. NHS England must also guarantee that necessary funding will be ring fenced in future budgets to ensure the plan published today can credibly be put into action."

* Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward. NHS England, May 2016

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