NHS cancer services struggling, says charity

Chest x-ray showing a suspected tumour Image copyright SPL
Image caption The number of people being diagnosed with cancer is rising rapidly

NHS cancer services in England are at a "tipping point" in the wake of years of efficiency savings and the recent NHS reforms, warns Cancer Research UK.

In a new report, the charity suggests services need urgent investment or cracks will begin to show.

And the analysis calls for greater funding towards cancer diagnosis in order to meet the "looming demands" of an ageing population.

But cancer service leaders say survival rates have never been higher.

'Squeezed budgets'

More than 1.4 million patients in England were referred by their GPs with suspected cancer in 2013-14 - a 50% increase from 2009-10.

But there is no longer the capacity to respond to this demand, according to the report, commissioned by Cancer Research UK and conducted by experts at the University of Birmingham and the company ICF CHK Consulting.

Researchers say there should be an urgent review into the leadership of services and how they are commissioned across the NHS.

Harpal Kumar, Cancer Research UK's chief executive, said: "In many ways NHS cancer services have held up remarkably well.

"Staff have bravely dug in and done their best in the face of overwhelming change, increased demand, squeezed budgets and fragmented leadership.

"But that cannot continue indefinitely.

"More people are surviving cancer than ever before - survival rates in the UK have doubled in the last 40 years because research is delivering better diagnosis and treatments.

"But the number of cases is also going up as the UK population ages.

"The NHS will need to be fit to meet that purpose and that needs increased investment, planning and leadership now."

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: "The NHS is successfully seeing 50% more patients than four years ago and survival rates have never been higher.

"Almost nine out of 10 patients say their care is excellent or very good.

"But Cancer Research UK is right to highlight the need for more integrated commissioning between specialist and local services."

Public Health Minister Jane Ellison, said: "This government has prioritised cancer, investing three-quarters of a billion pounds over four years to improve early diagnosis and treatment."

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