Health

Cancer care in England has lost momentum, say MPs

A patient receiving an intravenous dose of anticancer drugs from a syringe Image copyright Elvis
Image caption Cancer patients are often treated with chemotherapy, or doses of anti-cancer drugs

The push to improve cancer services in England has "lost momentum" in the past two years and the NHS must adapt to cope with demand, says a report by a group of MPs.

The Public Accounts Committee said the NHS was struggling to meet waiting time standards and had reduced resources.

UK cancer survival rates, while improving, were poor compared with the rest of Europe, the report said.

NHS England said it was already working on a new five-year strategy.

The report, published following evidence from a number of cancer charities and experts, looked at what progress had been made in improving cancer services and outcomes in England.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the committee, said: "With more than one in three people developing cancer in their lifetime, cancer touches the lives of all of us at some point, and the Department of Health spends over £6.7bn on cancer services a year.

"That is why it is so concerning that the Department of Health and NHS England have lost momentum in the drive to improve cancer services in the last two years.

"More and more people are getting cancer but the resources available to support improvement have gone down."

The report said that despite a good record in improving cancer services, progress had dipped recently.

Cancer waiting time targets, for example, had been missed.

Poor survival rates

The NHS target that 85% of cancer patients should be treated within 62 days of being urgently referred by their GP was missed for the first three-quarters of 2014.

As a result, 5,500 patients had to wait longer than 62 days for treatment between July and September last year.

Two other cancer waiting time targets were also missed at times during 2014, the report said.

It also said it was not good enough that in the UK nearly a third of people died within a year of a cancer diagnosis and about half did not survive for five years.

The committee also had issues with "poor" survival rates and access to treatment for people over 65.

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said the NHS was helping more people than ever survive cancer.

But he acknowledged it was time to take "a fresh look at how we can do even better across the whole patient journey".

"This is why we have already established an independent taskforce to develop a new cancer strategy for the next five years."

The taskforce, announced by NHS England in January, will focus on better prevention, faster diagnosis and better treatment, care and aftercare.

'Deliver the best'

Sarah Woolnough, executive director of policy at Cancer Research UK, said: "It is depressing that too many patients are waiting longer than they should for their diagnosis and effective treatment.

"We hope the report will urgently catalyse NHS England, the Department of Health and others charged with providing cancer care to deliver the best for all patients, no matter their age, the cancer they suffer from or where they live.

"All patients deserve the best treatment and care and many are not currently receiving it."

She said more people were surviving cancer thanks to the ability to diagnose patients earlier and treat them effectively.

But with an ageing population, more people would inevitably develop cancer.

To continue to improve cancer services, the right leadership, more investment and better planning was needed now, she said.

Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham said: "This report makes devastating reading for David Cameron and is damning proof of his mismanagement of the NHS. Under the Tories, cancer care has gone backwards and patients are missing out on the treatment they need."

A Department of Health spokesperson said an estimated 12,000 extra people would survive cancer by the end of 2015.

"We have invested an extra £750m on cancer services, including early diagnosis and innovative radiotherapy."

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