An Independent Cancer Taskforce has outlined six priority areas to help the National Health Service improve cancer outcomes in England in a new strategy, which could save and extend thousands of lives.

By 2020, an additional 30,000 patients every year could survive cancer for 10 years or more - 11,000 through earlier diagnosis - if plans to make substantial improvements in cancer care are followed, the Taskforce claims.

Crucial to this is investment underpinning the delivery of modern high-quality service. As such, the report calls for replacement of radiotherapy machines as they reach 10-years (and upgrading at six years), a permanent and sustainable plan for the Cancer Drugs Fund, a nationally-commissioned, regionally-delivered, molecular diagnostics service, and plans to address critical deficits in the cancer workforce.

The Taskforce has also highlighted a radical upgrade in prevention and public health as a key priority - including adopting a new tobacco control strategy within the next 12 months and a national action plan on obesity - given that four in 10 cancers are preventable and down to lifestyle choices.

Elsewhere, there must be a national ambition to achieve earlier diagnosis, it said, so that, by 2020, 95% of patients referred for testing by a GP are definitively diagnosed with cancer or not, with patients getting results within four weeks.

Another priority area is ensuring that patient experience is on a par with clinical effectiveness and safety. The strategy recommends giving all consenting patients electronic access to all test results and other communications involving further care by 2020, and access to a clinical nurse specialist or other key worker to help coordinate their care.

Recovery packages and better commissioning

Also, by 2020, every person with cancer should have access to elements of a ‘Recovery Package’ – a comprehensive plan that outlines treatment as well as post-treatment support and care, while clearer expectations need to be set by the end of the year for how cancer services should be commissioned. 

“Three previous cancer strategies did a great job of setting England on the path to a world class cancer service. But we are a long way from where we should be,” said Harpal Kumar, Taskforce chair. “Our expectation is that the government and NHS will now make the investments required and implement this strategy with commitment and speed,” he noted.

The strategic priorities set out offer the potential to transform outcomes over the next five years. “In the absence of implementation, the NHS will be unable to meet demand, resources will be spent inefficiently, costs will escalate, and patients will not receive the standard of care that they rightly deserve,” Kumal warned.