Government plans speedier access to diagnostic tests

In collaboration with the Press Association

Prime minister Gordon Brown will make a pledge at the Labour Party conference this week that patients suspected of having cancer will be tested within one week of seeing their GP.

The wait will initially be reduced so that, by 2013, patients will see a specialist and receive their test results within two weeks and Mr Brown hopes to further reduce this to seven days by 2015.

A £1 billion package of investment is expected to be announced by the prime minister, allowing diagnostic equipment to be purchased to help meet the target.

The money to pay for the extra ultrasound tests and CT and MRI scans is expected to become available as the government's hospital building programme comes to its scheduled end over the next few years.

According to Mr Brown, up to 10,000 lives could be saved as a result of cancers being detected at an earlier stage, when they are easier to treat.

The move would also ensure that patients are spared long, stressful waits before they know the outcome of their tests.

In the event that a patient is not guaranteed a test within two weeks, they would have the right to attend a private hospital.

"With our early treatment guarantee of a specialist within two weeks and our early diagnosis guarantee of tests within one week, the NHS will offer some of the best cancer care anywhere in the world," Mr Brown is expected to tell the conference in Brighton tomorrow (Tuesday).

"Our ambition could not be greater - step-by-step to beat cancer in this generation."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, commented: "Increased investment to give GPs much faster access to diagnostic tests would be a vital step towards fixing this country's cancer problem and raising our survival rates towards being the best in Europe.

"If we can detect cancer early it usually makes successful treatment more likely. And if the problem turns out not to be cancer, early tests help to put patients' minds at rest.

"Speedier diagnosis of the country's biggest cancer killers will save thousands of lives every year. Ovarian, lung and bowel cancers account for more than a third of cancer deaths.

"But this is just one part of an approach needed to overcome the deficit in cancer survival in this country that is driven by late diagnosis. We would like to see more government investment in public awareness campaigns and thought given to extending cancer screening programmes, among a range of other measures."