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Stevens backs cancer diagnosis overhaul

20 July 2015

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The Independent Cancer Workforce has recommended a new “route map” for cancer prevention, diagnosis and care which Simon Stevens, NHS England chief executive, says the NHS will be backing.

The plan, which the Taskforce predicts could save 30,000 lives a year, suggest there needs to be a “significant increase” in diagnostic capacity, giving GPs access to “key investigative tests” and testing new models to reduce the burden on GPs.

It suggests that by 2020 patients who are referred for tests by a GP are given a definite answer within four weeks that they either have cancer, or cancer is ruled out.

Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said that GPs play a “vital role” in “and more support to allow us to do this effectively is essential.

“GPs are already doing a very good job of appropriately referring our patients who we suspect of having cancer, considering the relative rarity of presentations – an average GP might see eight new cases of cancer for every 8,000 patient consultations – and the limited resources available to us,” she said.

However, she recognised that currently there is a “severe shortage” of family doctors and the access to diagnostic tools is “completely inadequate”, which welcomes the drive to give GPs better access to relevant scanners.

The report also advocated an upgraded prevention strategy, including a new tobacco strategy within 12 months to cut smoking rates from 18.4% to 13% by 2020, and a national action plan on obesity.

“The public health recommendations in the report are also important but we would like them to go further. We need significant, ongoing public awareness campaigns to educate the public about the causes of cancer – more than 40% of cancers are related to lifestyle choice – and to encourage people who have signs of cancer to approach their GP as early as possible,” Baker added.

The report also suggests clearer expectations need to be set by the end of 2015 for how cancer services should be commissioned, with most treatment then being commissioned at population sizes above CCG level.

By 2016, the report proposes that a network of Cancer Alliances should be established across the country to bring together key partners at a local level, including patients. The Alliances would use a dashboard of key metrics to address variation and support service redesign.