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New measures to deliver faster diagnoses

Earlier this year, we reported on the new cancer task force, set up to combat long waiting times for diagnoses in England – 25% of which were being made too late. Now, further plans have been unveiled, including a target of 95% of people being given a diagnosis or the all-clear within 28 days of being referred by their GP, by 2020.

Figures released in May showed that more than 21,000 people had not been treated within 62 days of their cancer diagnosis in the last financial year, and the NHS had failed to achieve its own targets for treatment. According to these, 85% of cancer patients should be treated within 62 days of being urgently referred by their GP, but just 83.4% were seen on time in 2014-15. While survival rates have been improving, England still lags behind some of the best performing countries. A cross-party committee of MPs recently warned that England’s cancer services had “lost momentum”.

The new measures – which will cost £300 million each year until 2020 – will be trialled initially at five hospitals, then rolled out nationally if they prove successful. If they do, it is estimated that 11,000 lives a year could be saved by faster diagnosis.

According to the BBC report on the measures, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: “We know that the biggest single factor that means that our cancer survival rates lag those of France, Germany and other European countries is the fact that we have too much late diagnosis; we don't get an answer to people quickly enough.” He hoped the new measures would “close the gap” and pledged more cancer consultants, specialist nurses, staff trained in endoscopies and diagnostic tests.

Another innovation aimed at speeding up the process involves giving patients online access to their test results, if they wish it. NHS England will also implement the independent cancer taskforce’s recommendations on molecular diagnostics, providing 20,000 more people a year with genetic testing to identify the most effective treatments, reducing the need for chemotherapy sessions.

Gordon Wishart, Professor of Cancer Surgery and Medical Director of Check4Cancer, comments: “This is very welcome news, and could save thousands of lives. Just last week we saw figures showing that breast cancer had increased by 20% in the last decade, while the number of breast cancer nurses had remained static since 2007. Hopefully this means we can get back on track with regard to cancer diagnosis and treatment – and often this is as much about having someone who can inform and support the patient as it is about hardware or drugs. A new study just published by Dr Caroline Kamau of Birkbeck, University of London has shown that giving cancer patients more detailed information can almost double their recovery rate. We have always believed that being better informed is one of the key elements not only for coping with cancer if it comes, but reducing initial cancer risk. This is why Check4Cancer always provide clear information and support alongside our early cancer detection services, and counselling for those opting for genetic testing. In achieving this, there is no substitute for dedicated, trained staff.”

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