Early testing at heart of survival cancer drive

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Media captionAndrew Lansley: "If we were to achieve the European average on outcomes we would save 5,000 lives a year"

The access GPs in England have to a series of tests to detect cancer are to be improved under new plans being set out by ministers.

More than £450m is being earmarked for chest X-rays, ultrasounds and MRI brain scans over the next four years.

The move forms the central plank of the government's cancer strategy.

The aim is to save an extra 5,000 lives a year to bring survival rates up to European averages.

Setting out the plans, Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: "Our ambition is simple, to deliver survival rates among the best in Europe and this strategy outlines how we will make our first steps towards this."

At the moment, patients are guaranteed to see a cancer specialist within two weeks if they get an urgent referral from their GP.

The coalition government has promised to keep this target, which was set by Labour, as they say it is clinically justifiable.


However, they believe GPs should have better direct access to testing for those patients who are not classed as urgent but could benefit from further investigation.

To achieve this they are freeing up money to improve access to a range of tests.

Doctors can already send patients for these tests, but there are often delays in the system.

The strategy also contains details on a number of initiatives already announced.

These include the plans to roll out sigmoidoscopy screening for bowel cancer, the £200m cancer drugs fund for treatments not routinely funded by the NHS and increasing the number of cancer specialists.

There will be a £10m advertising campaign to raise awareness about the signs and symptoms of some of the most common cancers as well.

The strategy also sets out a range of measures which the NHS will be judged on. These includes things such as the number of late diagnoses, whether cancer survivors get back to living independently and - if of working age - back into jobs.

Measures such of these have been set out for other conditions and are part of the government's wider attempts to move away from what they consider to be blunt targets to a more intelligent system of measuring performance.

Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said the strategy was a welcome move.

But he added: "The government now needs to ensure that this new investment flows through and is quickly taken up by front-line services."

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