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Let's beat cancer sooner

Credit: via Flickr/kwdesigns under CC-BY-ND 2.0

When it comes to cancer care, England isn’t quite in tiptop fighting form; it’s more like fictional boxer Rocky Balboa before his training montage.

Our waiting times are unacceptable; staff working in diagnostic services are struggling with an ever increasing workload; and patients are missing out on potentially life-saving targeted and personalised treatments.

But today we‘re blasting out Eye of the Tiger – because the Government has taken a big step towards getting cancer services into peak condition.

From commitments to diagnosing cancer earlier, through to care for people living with the disease, today’s announcements take a great first step towards saving thousands more lives and ensuring improvements for patient experience and quality of life.

It was only July when the Independent Cancer Taskforce report was published, outlining ambitious but welcome recommendations that would help England* become a world leader in cancer outcomes.

Since then, we’ve been busy making the case that the Government and NHS should introduce the Taskforce’s recommendations, as changes to diagnosis and treatment would make a huge difference to people affected by cancer.

Cancer Research UK has been campaigning for these changes and many of you have added your support through our Test Cancer Sooner petition, which you can still sign. Our work isn’t done yet, but this is a great start.

So where has the announcement come from, and what will the changes mean for patients?

Achieving world-class outcomes

It’s clear that we can get better at diagnosing people earlier – as shown by the unacceptable waiting times for test results highlighted recently by the President of the Royal College of Radiologists. And our recent reports, Horizon Scanning and Scoping the Future, show that services for diagnosing cancer are struggling under their current workload, and that this demand is only going to increase.

We have also called for treatment to be better targeted through ‘molecular’ diagnostics, as this would help doctors to give patients treatments tailored to their specific needs.

So it’s a great first step that today the Department of Health has shown its commitment to upping its game and achieving world-class cancer outcomes. The Government has announced that, supported by the NHS, it will:

  • Introduce a 28-day diagnosis ambition so patients receive a definitive cancer diagnosis, or an ‘all clear’, within 28 days of being referred by a GP. Patients will also be able to get their test results online as soon as they are available.

Taskforce

  • Invest in the diagnostic workforce and equipment over the next five years, which will add up to £300m a year by 2020. We know that the NHS will need to do more cancer tests – because our population is getting older, more people will be referred by GPs using the new NICE cancer referral guidelines, and we hope more people will take up the offer of screening – so having well-resourced diagnostic services means these tests can be carried out quickly.
  • Train 200 more staff to carry out endoscopies by 2018, in addition to the extra 250 gastroenterologists the NHS has already agreed to train in the next five years. Together, the Government estimates they will be able to carry out up to half a million more endoscopies by 2020.
  • Make molecular diagnostic tests routinely available to all patients that might benefit. The aim is that around 25,000 additional people a year will have their cancers genetically tested to identify the most effective treatments.
  • Give patients more control of their records so that, if they want to, they will be able to access their tests results online and other personal health information.
  • Help people live beyond cancer, through the introduction of a ‘recovery package’ and a way to measure quality of life so that we can see how well the NHS is doing.

These are all fantastic commitments and we’re especially glad to see that there will be investment in cancer tests. We know from the great response to our campaign to Test Cancer Sooner that this is really important to you – as we received more than 10,000 signatures in the first two weeks of the campaign, calling on the Chancellor to increase investment in diagnostics

But there’s still more to do. We know that the Government will be formally responding to the Taskforce report in full at a later date, so we’re looking forward to finding out what they’re planning next. As part of our Test Cancer Sooner campaign, we also still need Chancellor George Osborne to provide the detail about what this means over the next 5 years, in the upcoming Spending Review.

But today’s announcement points NHS organisations in the right direction, so they can take steps to improve cancer outcomes.

Now we want them to set out their plans, so that patients are diagnosed as early as possible and receive the best care. There is a lot more for them to cover – including investment in radiotherapy, and changing the cancer services landscape – so it’s some way to go before they can hit that knock-out punch to achieve world-class cancer outcomes.

But these commitments are going to make big improvements for patients, and this is great news.

– Sara Bainbridge is a policy advisor at Cancer Research UK

*This announcement only relates to England, as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own devolved healthcare policies.

Comments

Lumi November 3, 2015

It is all fine, but I waiting 2 weeks just to see the GP! and being away in another country they wanted to operate me ASAP!

chris james October 4, 2015

I went to see my doctor as had lost weight I was 29 at the time had hives all over my back, sweating through the nights in middle of winter. Doctor sent me for blood test and told me I was suffering with stress lol any way my blood results came back I had something wrong but doctor still said it was due to stress, he sent me to skin specialist about my hives on my back. While was there I asked him about a lump on my neck luckly for me he sent me for an ultrasound the fine needle biopsy, then had to have it removed came back I had lymphoma other test showed hodgkins stage 3b grateful to still be here but gps should know more then they do, made me feel I cannot trust them

Agnes October 1, 2015

My daughter at just 24 went to the doctor in December 2014 with a lump in her breast doc said they would refer her to breast clinic has to go back 6 weeks later as no word from breast clinic phone breast clinic her self 10 days later was told that they have just received her refel did not get appointment till February 2015 it was for March. That day in March she was digenosed with inflammatory breast cancer stage 3. Now 6 month later she is now triple Negative Stage 4 feeling let down.

Amanda Faed October 1, 2015

Where is the money for the hospitals etc, going to come from? I am still waiting after nearly three weeks, for the results of my breast cancer surgery, and have had no check up with the surgeon because the path labs can’t do my histology and get it to the MDT meeting! My local trust is facing a £40m deficit by the end of this financial year. They simply can’t cope with the workload!

Phillip Watson October 1, 2015

The process needs to start much earlier with the GP consultation where there needs to be more in- depth knowledge of the symptoms and how they present.
In my case it took four visits to my GP seeing 2 doctors, each time I complained that I was suffering a bloated abdomen, pain when I bent down, loss of appetite. I was still doing body pump at the time (53 years old) and despite toned limbs and scrawny face, it looked like I’d been cultivating the mother or all beer guts. After being told it was IBS, wind, indigestion and following a blood test ‘we know it’s nothing nasty’ I was finally referred to a gastroenterologist (private sector) who also proclaimed me fit but as a last precaution prescribed a lower bowel scan. Thankfully the very senior radiologist who conducted the CT broke process to gently tell me I had NH Lymphoma with a 15cm tumour on the back of my plural cavity (behind the organs) .He did this to get me to the right consultant asap, a superb haematologist who saved my bacon.Chemo followed, reoccurrence after two years then an NHS autograft stem cell transplant (2011 was ‘scenic’ to say the least).
My GP was devastated (I wasn’t exactly over the moon myself) but I think he genuinely learned from the experience and featured my case at his practice conference with the learning ‘We need to listen more carefully to how patients describe how they feel’ . This may seem obvious but if I, an articulate hopefully intelligent patient, used to presenting in public was not understood or properly listened to, what hope for others? I stress that my GP has been exemplary in his care ever since.

Kate B September 15, 2015

All very lovely but if the drugs aren’t available to access what difference will it make to those with secondary cancer right now??

Christiane Van Bogaert September 15, 2015

Well i had to wait two weeks for my biopsy results because there were not enough people to look at the results in the MDT. I was then called in to be told i had breast cancer and that i would need an MRI scan and told this would take a month before the appointment. When i protested after two weeks stating that i had hoped to have had an appointment date by now, i miraculously had an appointment made for the next day.
I then had to wait another two weeks before i got my first hospital appointment for surgery for the lymph node biopsy, then more waiting. In the end from being told i had breast cancer in the middle of June i had my mastectomy and reconstruction in the middle of August. So four weeks, that will be going some. More staff needed in the first place.

Heather September 15, 2015

I think this is the news that a lot of cancer patients need.Mine was caught on x.ray after serious of chest infections.I was diagnozed as terminal.However I had 2wks of pavicall radiotherapy.When I was told results it did shrink a little .However getting to this diagnosis felt like forever as wks were passing by I trying to stay strong &optimistic but the worry you go through mentally is very challenging.I’m very happy to hear this for children & adult’s get tested a.s.a.p.Will government still be changing brnifits?

Wendy Beckett September 14, 2015

Four weeks? Seriously? I waited two weeks for the result of my biopsy and by that time I was a nervous wreck so the positive diagnosis was not a surprise but a confirmation. Try waiting weeks to know if you are a cancer patient and you will find out. I am in Canada but am so disappointed that England is worse……my home country……please make it faster….don’t keep women in this sort of suspense, .it’s agony.