The Sunday Times pats itself on the back for a “successful campaign”, whereas those of us grounded in NHSreality know that with limited funds you have to rob Peter to pay Paul. What about the breakdown in Mental Health services, and the poor and post coded infertility services? The soft targets of physiotherapy, psychology and occupational therapy have been trimmed so that they hardly exist in many DGHs. (District General Hospitals). Cancer is going to get more common as we live longer and the demographics mean there will be more cancer survivors. This does not mean that, in a covertly rationed health care system, this is the best place for the money…Put another way, it may not be the best way to treat the population,,,, It does however buy votes. Accident and Emergency departments, GP Out of Hours services and Dementia care are cases in point.. I would rather have more doctors and safer hospitals first, and the better cancer care afterwards.. But it is good news and NHSreality finds this hard to come by..
THE government today unveils an ambitious plan to improve cancer treatment and end the scandal of national survival rates lagging behind other European countries.
In one of the biggest overhauls of cancer services and in a victory for The Sunday Times Beat Cancer campaign, GPs will fast-track thousands more patients for diagnostic tests. There will also be a new generation of radiotherapy machines to ensure access to the most advanced and effective treatments.
Under a key new pledge, the NHS will ensure that by 2020 95% of patients will be referred for cancer testing by their GP and have the disease definitively diagnosed, or ruled out, within four weeks.The £2bn measures are expected to result in 30,000 more people surviving cancer in Britain every year by 2020.
More than a third of these patients are expected to survive thanks to their cancer being diagnosed at an earlier stage. About 130,000 people die from cancer every year in England.
The new strategy follows a campaign by The Sunday Times that exposed how thousands of patents were at risk of premature death because of delays in diagnosis and treatment, including access to advanced radiotherapy.
Nearly half of cancers are currently diagnosed at a late stage and survival rates for some cancers have lagged behind those in Poland and Slovenia as well as countries such as Brazil, China, Malaysia and Mongolia.
Simon Stevens, chief executive of the NHS England, said: “The Sunday Times campaign has been hugely powerful and influential and is helping focus national effort on the opportunities to improve cancer care.”
He added that The Sunday Times had “got it right” in highlighting a need for more investment in radiotherapy.
Stevens promised a substantial upgrade programme for radiotherapy services over the next five years, which would include investment in advanced new machines . “We have got the opportunity to tap into the huge advances that have been made in precision radiotherapy,” he said.
All radiotherapy machines will now be replaced when they are 10 years old. They will also be upgraded after six years. About 126 radiotherapy machines will need to be replaced in the next three years at a cost of £250m.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chairman of the independent Cancer Taskforce, which wrote the plan, said: “It is really important to remind ourselves that treatment in cancer is not just about cancer drugs.
“The vast majority of patients who are cured of their cancer are cured because of surgery or radiotherapy. The whole point of earlier diagnosis is to enable more patients to have access to those treatments which could be curative as opposed to relying on drugs that can extend the end of life by a few months.”
The guarantee that patients will be told if they have cancer within four weeks of a GP referral requires a significant increase in staff and services to conduct the checks. GPs will be able to send patients directly for tests such as ultrasounds, x-rays and CT scans without having to first refer them to a hospital consultant.
Pilot schemes will be set up to establish whether it is feasible for patients with worrying symptoms to refer themselves for investigations.
In other pilots, special diagnostic centres will be established where patients can undergo a series of tests relevant to their suspected cancer on the same day.
The taskforce report described “severe bottlenecks” in the NHS diagnosing cancer and treating the disease owing to a shortage of specialist doctors and nurses.
Kumar claimed the cost of setting up better diagnosis services would save money in the long run.
He said rates of diagnostic testing in England were “way below” those in other countries. He also pointed out the cost of NHS treatment for bowel cancer diagnosed at an early stage was about £3,400, against £12,500 for patients diagnosed with the condition at a late stage.
The taskforce wants to see new investment to increase the NHS workforce involved in combating cancer, including radiologists. The UK has 47 trained radiologists per million population, against 81 in Germany, 108 in Sweden and 121 in Denmark.
The taskforce said Britain’s cancer survival rates “lag considerably behind countries of similar wealth” largely because of late diagnosis and poor access to treatment.
It added: “We have among the lowest levels of cancer incidence of rich countries, but among the highest levels of mortality.”
The most up-to-date comparisons, which are for the years 1995-2007, show the gap in survival rates between the highest-performing nations (Australia, Canada and Sweden) and the lowest ones (England, Northern Ireland, Wales and Denmark) remains largely unchanged, except for breast cancer, where the UK is narrowing the gap.
International comparisons also show cancers in the UK are more advanced on average at the time of diagnosis.
Under the new strategy the NHS wants to improve cancer prevention by cutting levels of obesity and smoking.
It has set a target of reducing smoking from 18.4% of adults now to 13% by 2020.
Cancer is not yet subject to overt exclusion through insurance policies. The whole idea of Aneurin Bevan’s original NHS was to avoid exclusion through lack of means, and mutualise risk…