NHS patients in England should get results for cancer tests within four weeks of being referred by a GP by 2020 under new plans to improve treatment. NHS England’s cancer taskforce is also recommending improved molecular diagnostics including testing for hereditary cancer, and increasing specialist staff to ensure it delivers “world class” cancer care.
The five-year plan will cost £400m a year but experts say earlier treatment will result in similar savings. They say the plan could help an extra 30,000 patients survive for 10 years. While survival rates have been improving, England still lags behind some of the best performing countries.
Harpal Kumar, chief executive of Cancer Research UK and chairman of NHS England’s task force, said the changes could help create a “world class” service over the coming years. “We have an opportunity to save many thousands of lives from cancer.”
About testing for Lynch Syndrome, as well as Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer, in this report:
“Recommendation 36: NHS commissioners should ensure that:
• All patients under the age of 50 receiving a bowel cancer diagnosis are offered a genetic test for Lynch Syndrome.
• All women with non-mucinous epithelial ovarian cancer are offered testing for BRCA1/BRCA2 at the point of diagnosis.
• All women under the age of 50 diagnosed with breast cancer are offered testing for BRCA1/BRCA2 at the point of diagnosis.
These tests will enable any family members at high risk to be identified and active surveillance programmes put in place. Where applicable, positive tests should guide decisions on the most clinically and cost-effective prevention interventions or treatments.”
The report recommends guidelines are updated about the use of chemoprotective agents, such as aspirin in Lynch Syndrome (Recommendation 7).
Other plans include:
- The creation of a four-week target for diagnosis from GP referral. Currently patients are meant to see a specialist within two weeks of a GP referral but can then face weeks of waiting for tests, meaning a growing number of patients do not get their treatment started within 62 days as they should
- An 80% increase in the number of tests being carried out, including increasing the ability of GPs to order tests directly – for many they have to go through a hospital specialist
- Replacing more than 100 radiotherapy machines – half of England’s stock – with new, better models
- Recruiting extra staff in areas such as specialist nurses and radiologists, with the latter needing to nearly double in number
- Cancer patients to get online access to all their test results and a specialist nurse or other key worker to co-ordinate their care
- A call for action on smoking and obesity – four in 10 cancers could be prevented through lifestyle improvements
- All cancer survivors to be given a recovery package so they get the support they need to recover from their treatment and stay cancer-free
The publication of the five-year strategy comes after a cross-party group of MPs warned that cancer services had “lost momentum” in the past two years.