NHS Launches New Bid To Beat Cancer And Save Thousands Of Lives

NHS England today (Sunday) announced a new independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services that will improve survival rates and save thousands of lives.

It also launched a major new programme to test innovative ways of diagnosing cancer more quickly at more than 60 sites across the country, and committed a further £15m over three years to evaluate and treat patients with a type of modern radiotherapy.

More than one in three people in the UK develop cancer and half will now live for at least ten years – forty years ago average survival was just one year.  But for some cancers patients are being diagnosed late so that some survival rates are below the European average.

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.

Chaired by Cancer Research UK Chief Executive Harpal Kumar, the taskforce will work across the entire health system. It 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 GPs.

It will consider prevention, first contact with services, diagnosis, treatment, support for those living with and beyond cancer, and end-of-life care, as well as how all these services will need to develop and innovate in future.  It will assess the opportunity for improved cancer care by March 2015 and produce a new five-year cancer strategy by the summer.

Alongside the taskforce, NHS England announced:

  • the launch of a major 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.
  • the extension of NHS England’s Commissioning through Evaluation programme to innovative radiotherapy treatment, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) costing in the region of £5m each year. This new commitment comes following a campaign led by former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, aiming to make SABR more widely available to cancer patients in England. NHS England’s evaluation programme will enable the number of cancer patients eligible to access SABR treatment to rise significantly, by 750 new patients a year. The programme will widen the number of cancers being treated to include the treatment of oligometastatic disease (cancer that has spread to another part of the body), primary liver tumours, spinal tumours, the re-irradiation of cancers in the pelvis and other selected indications.

This investment is in addition to NHS England’s pledge to fund up to £6m over the next five years to cover the NHS treatment costs of SABR clinical trials led by Cancer Research UK.

  • An improvement to the monitoring of cancer survival at a local level.  NHS England will include a one-year cancer survival indicator in the assurance system used to ensure Clinical Commissioning Groups are delivering. This puts cancer survival at the front and centre for every single CCG across the country.

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.”

Lawrence Dallaglio, campaigner for improved cancer services, said: “This project is a significant step forward for patient access to advanced radiotherapy in our country. It will double the number of cancer patients being treated with SABR, more than double the number of cancers treated and, just as importantly, lead the way for patients to be treated within their own regions. There remains a good way to go but this agreement shows that when we all work together great things can be achieved.”

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 8000 more lives a year.”