Taskforce calls for action on England’s lagging cancer survival

England is still lagging behind similar countries in terms of its cancer survival rates, and a new report calls for a ‘radical’ shake-up to help save thousands of lives a year.

The Independent Cancer Taskforce, commissioned by NHS England, has concluded that an extra 30,000 patients every year could survive cancer for 10 years or more after 2020 if major changes are made.

More than a third (11,000) of these extra lives extended would come through earlier diagnosis, and this would require a ‘radical upgrade’ in prevention and public health.

The Taskforce, chaired by Cancer Research UK’s chief executive Harpal Kumar also says a ‘permanent and sustainable model’ for the Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) is also needed to help patients gain access to drugs.

The plan comes at a time when cancer cases are increasing. In 2013/14 280,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in England and this is expected to reach more than 300,000 by 2020, and more than 360,000 by 2030.

The Taskforce set out six strategic priorities. Some highlights from these include:

A radical upgrade in prevention and public health

Includes calls for new controls on tobacco, and a national plan on obesity.

A national ambition to achieve earlier diagnosis

By 2020, 95 per cent of patients referred by a GP are definitively diagnosed with cancer, or

cancer is ruled out, and that patients get this result within four weeks – this will require ‘significant increase in diagnostic capacity’.

Patient experience on a par with clinical effectiveness and safety

The Taskforce wants all consenting patients to get access to electronic records, a clinical

nurse specialist or other key worker to help co-ordinate their care.

Further work needed on ‘meaningful ways’ to measure a patient’s experience, including the annual Cancer Patient Experience Survey.

Transformation in support for people living with and beyond cancer

Report calls for every cancer patient to have access to elements of a ‘Recovery Package’ – a comprehensive treatment plan and post-treatment support and care.

Investment to deliver a modern, high-quality service

Radiotherapy machines need to be replaced; a permanent and sustainable model for the CDF; a molecular diagnostics service to guide personalised prevention, screening and treatment. Finally, plans to address ‘critical deficits’ in the cancer workforce.

Overhauled processes for commissioning, accountability and provision

The huge reorganisation of England’s NHS, introduced in 2013, has caused confusion and disruption, something to which the report alludes. Regional cancer networks were scrapped, with commissioning being taken over by national body NHS England. The Taskforce says local Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) should commission more services, with new Cancer Alliances – panels to include patient representatives – supporting and addressing local variation and service re-design.

More money required?

Harpal Kumar, chair of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said: “We have an opportunity to

save many thousands of lives from cancer every year. We’re better informed than ever

about how best to prevent, diagnose and treat the disease, and how to deliver better

patient experience and quality of life. What’s needed now is action.”

Kumar said three previous cancer strategies had helped advance treatment, but commented: “we are a long way from where we should be.”

He added that the Taskforce’s expectation was that “the Government and NHS will now make the investments required and implement this strategy with commitment and speed.”

NHS England’s chief executive Simon Stevens welcomed the ‘groundbreaking route map’ but made no mention of how its recommendations would be resourced.

The report comes at a time of unprecedented belt-tightening in the NHS. Despite an extra £8 billion in funding in England, demand for services is far outstripping this increase.

This means that the NHS will be asked to make the improvements and service redesign without any significant new funds.

In public health, funding is even tighter. While NHS budgets have been protected from the UK government spending cuts, public health budgets have been slashed. Chancellor George Osborne last month announced cuts of £200 million for 2015/16, around 7.4 per cent of the budgets controlled by local councils.

Read the full Taskforce report, Achieving world-class cancer outcomes: a strategy for England 2015-2020

Related articles

Earlier diagnosis – The key to improving Britain’s cancer survival rates

Don't miss your daily pharmaphorum news.
SUBSCRIBE free here.