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Influx of £300m cancer investment to accelerate testing and tailor personal support

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt MP has announced new measures to radically improve cancer services in the country following recommendations from the Independent Cancer Taskforce.

The taskforce, set up as a part of the NHS Five Year Forward View, found that diagnosing suspected cancer cases within 28 days could help save up to 11,000 lives a year.

Hunt has pledged that, from 2020, people with suspected cancer will be diagnosed within the recommended timeframe after being referred by a GP.

He said: “For people who are worried they may have cancer, waiting for that all important test result is a nerve-wracking time. We have a duty to make sure this period of uncertainty is as short as possible.

“For those who get the all clear, they will have peace of mind sooner. Those who sadly have cancer will get treatment much quicker and we will save thousands of lives as a result.”

The government has committed up to an extra £300m a year on diagnostics over the next five years to help meet the 28-day target.

This includes a new national training programme set to provide 200 additional staff with the skills needed to carry out endoscopies by 2018. This will add to the 250 extra gastroenterologists the NHS has pledged to train by 2020.

It is expected that the newly trained staff will carry out almost half a million more endoscopy tests on the state service by the end of this parliament.

The NHS will identify five hospitals across the UK to pilot the new 28-day target before the programme is rolled out nationally by 2020.

Cancer Research UK CEO Harpal Kumar, the chair the taskforce, said: “These commitments are going to save thousands of lives and deliver a step-change in patient experience and quality of life, so this is fantastic news. Diagnosing more cancers earlier could transform patients’ lives as it improves survival. But we’ve shown that services for diagnosing cancer are under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff are so important.

“Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to being treatment sooner.”

Other measures to tailor recovery packages to those diagnosed with cancer include a “more personalised” treatment plan and better support to live with and beyond the disease.

These include genetically testing another 20,000 people a year to identify the most effective treatments and reduce unnecessary chemotherapy sessions.

Last month analysis by Cancer Research UK revealed that thousands of patients were missing out on critical molecular diagnostic tests in NHS hospitals. About 16,000 eligible patients with non-small cell lung cancer or colorectal cancer also missed out on testing, therefore wasting their chances to explore all possible treatment options early on.

About 3,500 of these patients would have been eligible for targeted medicine, thus missing out on relevant benefits, such as avoiding side effects of increasing chances of survival.

Kumar said: “It’s…great that molecular diagnostic tests will be made routinely available to all patients who might benefit. These tests can help doctors provide more tailored treatments that may improve survival and potentially reduce side effects from less effective treatments.

“At the heart of the recommendations in the cancer strategy is our desire for patients to have the best outcomes and care in the world. It’s now up to the government and NHS to make sure today’s commitments are introduced without delay, and we await further detail on how they will take forward the rest of the strategy.”

By the end of this Parliament in 2020, patients will also be able to access online information about their treatment and test results.

Hunt has promised to enhance access to physical activity programmes, psychological support and practical advice about returning to work, as well as helping those suffering with depression by making sure they receive the right care.

By 2017 the government also plans to implement a new national quality of life measure to help monitor people’s wellbeing after their cancer treatment ends in order to identify and reshape priorities for improvement.

The positive news comes just a week after it surfaced that the Cancer Drugs Fund will cut funding for a further 16 medicines used for 27 separate treatments from 4 November, including those used for breast, pancreatic and blood cancers.

This will reduce the number of treatments covered by the Cancer Drugs Fund more than half since the beginning of the year. 


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