Government launches Cancer Reform Strategy

In collaboration with the Press Association

The government has launched a new five-year plan to improve NHS cancer services, transforming all areas of care from prevention and diagnosis to treatment and aftercare.

The NHS Cancer Reform Strategy represents the biggest review of cancer services since 2000's Cancer Plan and a £370 million investment has been pledged by 2010 in order to build a world-class cancer service in England.

Health minister Alan Johnson commented: "Today I have pledged that NHS cancer services will do even more for patients. More to help reduce the risk of developing cancer, more to ensure access to high quality treatment and more to deliver care in the most clinically appropriate and convenient setting for patients.

"Clinicians, patients and cancer charities tell us that cancer care has improved significantly in the last ten years thanks to investment and reform, but I am determined to go further.

"I want to build world-class cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage."

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "Cancer is the biggest cause of death in the UK and more than one in three people will develop the disease at some point in their lives. Each day around 800 people across the UK learn of a cancer diagnosis for the first time.

"Cancer Research UK was one of the many expert groups involved in developing the strategy so we look forward to working with the NHS to deliver these recommendations. It's vital that these proposals are followed through if we're to become among the best in the world at treating cancer."

One of the main focuses of the new strategy will be prevention, including helping smokers to give up cigarettes, looking at the possibility of banning cigarette vending machines and requiring shops to make their tobacco displays less visible.

A new £300 million immunisation scheme is set to protect against cervical cancer and the government will consult on the possibility of further regulation of sunbeds to address growing rates of skin cancer.

Harpal Kumar commented: "Smoking remains the single biggest preventable cause of cancer and the commitment to go further on tobacco regulation is critical. The fact is that half of all smokers eventually die from cancer, or other smoking-related illnesses. And a quarter of smokers die in middle age - between 35 and 69. That's an incredibly high toll. Any new regulation that helps reduce this and helps more people give up smoking must be welcomed. "We are also greatly encouraged by the announcement that further action on sunbeds is being considered - this is crucial because melanoma is one of the fastest rising cancers in the UK."

The strategy also contains plans to improve diagnosis and treatment, including the extension of the Breast Cancer Screening Programme to all women between the ages of 47 and 73 by 2012 and £100 million worth of investment in new digital mammography equipment.

There will also be an extension of the NHS Bowel Cancer Screening Programme to all men and women between the ages of 70 and 75 from 2010, as well as an investigation into how delays at the GP stage of treatment can be reduced.

In addition, Mr Johnson has unveiled plans to improve the experience of cancer patients by investing in radiotherapy and minimising delays in the approval process for new drugs.

"It is great news that radiotherapy services will benefit from this significant investment of £130 million," said Harpal Kumar. "We have campaigned hard for the government to significantly increase the UK's investment in radiotherapy capacity. These vital life-saving services offer the possibility of significantly improving survival rates in the UK. Half of all cancer patients receive radiotherapy and this funding should ensure that we have the capacity to deliver consistently across the country, without patients having to wait for long periods for treatment.

"We welcome the commitment to ensuring that all cancer drugs, wherever possible, are assessed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as soon as they are licensed," he continued. "This will help put an end to the current situation where patients are left in limbo waiting many months, or even years, to find out if new treatments are to become available on the NHS."

The waiting time standards will also be extended, with the 31-day wait from decision to treat to the start of treatment to cover all cancer treatments, including radiotherapy, by 2010.

Harpal Kumar added: "We're very encouraged that the time between receiving a cancer diagnosis and completing treatment is to be speeded up, not just for new drugs, but also for radiotherapy and for all stages of cancer treatment. This step, which will require considerable investment, will maximise survival chances and reduce anxiety for patients. "But we need to ensure that the NHS has the extra money needed to meet these targets, particularly in radiotherapy where we know there are significant shortages at present."

Almost 300,000 people signed a petition in support of Cancer Research UK's Cancer 2020 campaign which called on the government to revisit and update the 2000 NHS Cancer Plan. The petition was handed in to 10 Downing Street days before the announcement of the Cancer Reform Strategy in 2006.