MPs call for action on cancer survival rates and treatment gaps

In collaboration with Adfero

Death rates from cancer have fallen and survival rates have improved since the publication of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000, a parliamentary report has said.

But the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said that more must be done to tackle the enduring gap between the survival rates in England and those seen in the best-performing countries in Europe.

The committee's latest report, entitled 'Delivering the Cancer Reform Strategy', was published yesterday (March 1st).

In it, MPs say that significant progress has been made in delivering important aspects of cancer services and in meeting waiting time targets.

There has also been a reduction in the average length of hospital stay for cancer patients since the publication of the five-year Cancer Reform Strategy in 2007, along with improvements in the number of patients treated as day cases.

However, the committee expressed concern that patients are often not diagnosed early enough and that there are "wide, unexplained variations" in performance around England.

MPs also criticised the collection of information about key aspects of cancer services, such as chemotherapy and follow-up treatment.

PAC chair Margaret Hodge said that the committee "fully supports" the work carried out by the Department of Health over the last ten years, as mortality rates have fallen and cancer waiting time targets are consistently met.

"But the one-year survival rates in England are still poor compared with the best-performing European countries and that is generally a sign of low awareness of symptoms, among the public and GPs, and late diagnosis," she revealed.

"There also remain unexplained wide variations across the country in how cancer services perform and in types of treatment available."

Ms Hodge expressed disappointment at the lack of good-quality, timely information on important aspects of cancer services.

She concluded: "The department must maintain the momentum it has recently established in improving information on cancer services and make sure this information is used to improve the use of resources and, most importantly, to deliver better outcomes for cancer patients."

Care services minister Paul Burstow said: "It is unacceptable that our cancer survival rates lag way behind our European neighbours, when we spend the equivalent amount on healthcare.

"If the NHS was performing at the level of the best in Europe, an extra 10,000 lives could be saved each year."

Mr Burstow said the government had taken "swift action" since the general election, including launching a new £60 million bowel cancer screening service and a £25 million fund to improve diagnostics in the community.

He insisted: "Our plans will ensure patients get the best care at each stage that they need it because we are focusing on survival rates."

Emily Arkell, Cancer Research UK's policy manager, said: "Cancer survival rates have doubled over the last 40 years in the UK, but our outcomes are still poorer than the best performing countries in the world.

"We have been campaigning to get cancer diagnosed as early as possible and to ensure that all patients have fast access to the best targeted treatments to help improve survival. So we're pleased that the focus on spotting cancer early will continue.

"There is a risk that cancer services could suffer during this period of radical NHS change and financial austerity. But it is vital for the government to provide the best possible services to cancer patients and their families and to ensure it remains a priority to improve outcomes for the one in three of us who will be diagnosed with cancer during our lifetime."