Patients with suspected cancer to see specialist within two weeks

In collaboration with the Press Association

People in England with suspected cancer will have the right to see a specialist within two weeks, Gordon Brown has said.

The prime minister unveiled his new 'Building Britain's Future' plan in the House of Commons yesterday (June 29th), in which he outlined a "radical vision for a fairer, stronger and more prosperous society".

He told MPs that he plans to establish a "new set of public service entitlements", including enforceable rights to "prompt treatment and high standards of care".

Mr Brown revealed that this would include "a guarantee that no-one who needs to see a cancer specialist waits more than two weeks; a guarantee of a free health check-up on the NHS for everyone over 40; and a guarantee that no-one waits more than 18 weeks for hospital treatment".

He continued: "The health secretary will bring forward, later this year, proposals to further focus the NHS towards prevention and the earliest intervention."

But doctors' leaders have been unimpressed by the prime minister's pledges, with Dr Hamish Meldrum, chairman of the British Medical Association, claiming that they are unlikely to make a difference.

"There really is not that much difference between a target, a pledge or a guarantee to me," he told BBC News.

"A two-week wait is not really the issue. I think joined-up care, investigations and getting to see the right specialists is more important."

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said that waiting to see a specialist can be an "extremely distressing" time.

However, he pointed out: "As most NHS trusts in England already meet the two-week deadline, we believe the government will have a greater impact on cancer survival if they focused their energy on improving early detection, when treatment is often milder and more effective.

"For example just last week a report by the National Cancer Intelligence Network found that 90 per cent of bowel cancers can be cured if treated early, but only 13 per cent are detected at the earliest stage.

"Cancer Research UK also revealed last year that as many as 11,000 deaths from cancer could be prevented annually if Britain raised its survival figures to match those of the best performing countries in Europe. We believe that the most important reasons for the survival gap include poor awareness of the symptoms of cancer, late presentation to a GP, and late onward referral to hospital.

"We urge the goverment to accelerate its efforts in this area to reduce the number of people needlessly dying from cancer in Britain."