The government has pledged that, from 2020, people with suspected cancer will be diagnosed within 28 days of being referred by a GP.
The Cancer Taskforce, set up as part of the NHS’s Five Year Forward View to examine how to improve cancer care and survival rates, said the new target could help save up to 11,000 lives a year.
The government also announced new measures to develop a tailored recovery package for everyone surviving cancer.
New measures to help personalise people’s treatment and care include:
– around 20,000 additional people a year having their cancers genetically tested to identify the most effective treatments, reducing unnecessary chemotherapy sessions
– by 2020, patients will be able to access online information about their treatment and tests results
– access to physical activity programmes, psychological support and practical advice about returning to work
– help for those suffering with depression to make sure they have the right care at the right time
– by 2017, there will be a new national quality of life measure to help monitor how well people live after their treatment has ended, so priorities for improvements can be identified
Health secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “For people who are worried they may have cancer, waiting for that all important test result is a nerve-wracking time. We have a duty to make sure this period of uncertainty is as short as possible.
“Those who sadly have cancer will get treatment much quicker and we will save thousands of lives as a result.”
The government has committed to spend up to £300 million more on diagnostics every year over the next 5 years to help meet the new 28 day target.
Health Education England will start a new national training programme that will provide 200 additional staff with the skills and expertise to carry out endoscopies by 2018.
This is in addition to the extra 250 gastroenterologists the NHS has already committed to train by 2020.
The newly trained staff will be able to carry out almost a half a million more endoscopy tests on the NHS by 2020.
Harpal Kumar, chair of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said: “Services for diagnosing cancer are under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff are so important.
“Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner.
“It’s also great that molecular diagnostic tests will be made routinely available to all patients who might benefit. These tests can help doctors provide more tailored treatments that may improve survival and potentially reduce side effects from less effective treatments.”
The NHS will identify 5 hospitals across the UK to pilot the new target before the programme is rolled out nationally by 2020.
Relative to its European neighbours, the UK has poor cancer outcomes.
Earlier this year, with the Cancer Fund spiralling £100m over budget, NHS England decided to continue paying for only 59 of the 84 treatments it had previously offered. Three news ones were added.