Cancer tsar calls for ongoing reform in NHS care

In collaboration with the Press Association

The NHS must continue to change if it is to deliver better cancer care to patients, the government's cancer tsar has claimed.

Professor Mike Richards, national cancer director for England, has today published a report which recognises improvements in the UK's cancer care, but also draws attention to necessary reforms in the future.

The professor said that, while cancer care had improved greatly in recent years, continued re-organisation of services would play a key part in further improving patient care.

"It is important that we press on with these as cancer will become ever more common as more people live longer," Professor Richards claimed. "My report shows that some treatment and care needs to be concentrated in specialist centres so that clinicians with the right skills, experience and equipment are available to treat patients with complex needs safely."

He explained that patients needed to understand that they may need to travel "a bit further" to receive expert care, "but should be reassured that the benefits they reap will be worth it".

"At the same time, medical technology is also making it possible to treat many patients closer to home; for example, simple chemotherapy is now given in district hospitals rather than specialist centres, and this is being taken one step further with some patients receiving simple chemotherapy from nurses in outreach clinics - meaning sick people don't have to travel for simple routine treatment," he continued.

Professor Richards insisted that the needs of patients should be placed ahead of the convenience of the NHS and said that patient care should be coordinated through specialist teams to ensure the best treatment and support.

Cancer Research UK agreed that further improvements are needed in NHS cancer care.

Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK's medical director, commented: "The development of the Cancer Plan has improved and delivered more coordinated care for today's cancer patients.

"But we must not rest on our laurels if we are to meet today's and the future challenges of cancer and more closely match the US and Europe in terms of cancer survival.

"The number of patients and the cost of diagnosing and treating them will rise significantly during the next decade and beyond. We are pleased that the Government has decided to develop the Cancer Reform Strategy which will help drive forward change for the benefit of cancer patients.

"As more sophisticated and expensive treatments will become available it's essential that the NHS starts planning now for their introduction in the short to medium term."

Other recommendations in the 'Getting it right for people with cancer' report include the centralisation of complex services, moving simpler tests and treatments closer to patients to reduce unnecessary travelling, and using staff more flexibly.