Four-week target for cancer diagnosis

THE government has pledged that from 2020 people with suspected cancer will be diagnosed within 28 days of being referred by a GP.

This was a key recommendation of the Independent Cancer Taskforce which was set up as part of the NHS’s Five Year Forward View to examine how to improve cancer care and survival rates. It is claimed the target could help save up to 11,000 lives a year.

Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt also announced new measures to develop a tailored recovery package for everyone surviving cancer. These will include offering an additional 20,000 cancer patients each year genetic testing to identify the most effective treatments, reducing unnecessary chemotherapy sessions. Patients will also be able to access online information about their treatment and tests results, and access physical activity programmes, psychological support and practical advice about returning to work.

The government has committed to spend up to £300 million more on diagnostics every year over the next five years to help meet the new 28-day target.

Health Education England will start a new national training programme that will provide 200 additional staff with the skills and expertise to carry out endoscopies by 2018. This is in addition to the extra 250 gastroenterologists the NHS has already committed to train by 2020. It is estimated that the newly trained staff will be able to carry out almost a half a million more endoscopy tests on the NHS by 2020.

The NHS will identify five hospitals across the UK to pilot the new target before the programme is rolled out nationally by 2020.

Harpal Kumar, chair of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said: "These commitments are going to save thousands of lives and deliver a step change in patient experience and quality of life, so this is fantastic news.

"Diagnosing more cancers earlier could transform patients’ lives as it improves survival. But we’ve shown that services for diagnosing cancer are under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff are so important. Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner."

Responding to the announcement, Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "The extra money for diagnostic tools - and more healthcare professionals being trained to use them - is welcome, but we must ensure that a significant proportion of this is used to improve GP access to diagnostic tools.

"GPs across the UK are already doing a good job of appropriately referring our patients that we suspect of having cancer; 75 per cent of patients found to have cancer are referred after only one or two GP consultations.

"But currently GP access to diagnostic tools, such as CT and MRI scans, and ultrasounds, is one of the worst in Europe. Giving us and our teams better access would mean we are able to refer even more appropriately, therefore alleviating pressures on secondary care and distress for our patients."

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