NHS England has announced it will be testing a number of new initiatives as part of a programme to improve early diagnosis in cancer, including offering patients the option to self-refer for diagnostic tests.
The programme will be conducted jointly with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support and will evaluate seven new approaches to identifying cancer more quickly across more than 60 sites around the country. The initiatives will also include lowering referral thresholds for GPs and introducing multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres where patients can have several tests in the same place on the same day.
NHS England has also launched a new independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services to improve survival rates.
The taskforce has been asked to deliver the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, which calls for action on three fronts: better prevention, swifter diagnosis and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer. The taskforce will consider prevention, first contact with services, diagnosis, treatment, support for those living with and beyond cancer, and end-of-life care, as well as how all these services will need to develop and innovate in future. It has pledged to assess the opportunity for improved cancer care by March 2015 and produce a new five-year cancer strategy by the summer.
More than one in three people in the UK develop cancer and half will now live for at least ten years – forty years ago average survival was just one year. But for some cancers patients are being diagnosed late, resulting in survival rates that are below the European average.
Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and head of the NHS cancer taskforce, said: "The Five-Year-Forward View has set out a compelling vision for the delivery of health services. We now need to turn the vision into a reality for the thousands of patients diagnosed with cancer every week. We also know that many more people will be diagnosed with cancer in the years ahead.
"Cancer Research UK is projecting an increase of a third in the number of cases over the next 15 years. So the time is right to set new ambitions and to take a fresh look at how we will meet this need. I am honoured to have been asked to lead this cross-system group which will address this."