Report shows some improvements in cancer care

In collaboration with Adfero

There have been improvements in key areas of cancer care since the publication of the Cancer Reform Strategy in 2007, according a new National Audit Office (NAO) report.

But the report highlights a number of areas where progress is still needed.

The NAO found that cancer waiting times have improved and patients are spending less time in hospital, largely thanks to a greater number being treated as day cases.

Emergency admissions have increased, however, despite efforts to minimise these rates.

The NAO also warned that further improvements may be hard to achieve due to a lack of high-quality information on the costs and outcomes of cancer services.

It said that the government has limited assurance as to whether the changes made since the publication of the Cancer Reform Strategy have achieved value for money.

Furthermore, spending on cancer care varied between primary care trusts (PCTs) - ranging from £55 to £154 per person in 2008-09.

The report authors highlighted a number of areas where money could be saved.

For instance, about £113 million a year could be saved by reducing the average length of hospital stays to those achieved by the best-performing PCTs, while a further £106 million could be saved by reducing the number of newly diagnosed patients who are admitted as inpatients.

Finally, the report noted that while the quality of some information on cancer has improved, there are still significant gaps which affect trusts' ability to commission services and monitor performance effectively.

Amyas Morse, head of the National Audit Office, said: "The Department of Health's strong direction and high-profile leadership has resulted in improved cancer services in key areas.

"Further improvement depends, to a significant degree, on raising standards of practice around the country up to the best. A key factor in driving this is a much improved approach to information on cancer services."

Aisling Burnand, executive director of policy and public affairs at Cancer Research UK, said: "This report shows that although we have seen significant progress in the delivery of cancer services since 2007, there's still a lot to do in order to make the UK's cancer survival amongst the best in the world.

"Good cancer commissioning, high-quality information for patients, clinicians and policymakers and reducing variations in the quality of cancer services will all help to make progress. We hope the refreshed cancer strategy, due to be published this winter, addresses these issues and sets an ambitious plan for action to improve the care patients receive and increase their chance of surviving cancer."