95% of suspected cancer patients should be diagnosed with 28 days of referral to a GP by 2020, according to the Independent Cancer Taskforce.

The 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, says that this target could help save up to 11,000 lives a year.

“For people who are worried they may have cancer, waiting for that all important test result is a nerve-wracking time,” says health secretary Jeremy Hunt. “We have a duty to make sure this period of uncertainty is as short as possible.

“For those who get the all clear, they will have peace of mind sooner. Those who sadly have cancer will get treatment much quicker and we will save thousands of lives as a result.”

Implementing this target is expected to cost £300 million a year until 2020.

Six targets

The Taskforce has recommended five other strategic priorities.

This first is a radical upgrade in prevention and public health, including adopting a new tobacco control strategy within the next 12 months, and a national action plan on obesity.

Secondly, patient experience should be on par with clinical effectiveness and safety, which could involve giving all consenting patients electronic access to all test results and access to a clinical nurse specialist to help coordinate their care.

The Taskforce also says that to improve patient support by 2020 every cancer patient should have access to a ‘Recovery Package’ – a comprehensive plan that outlines treatment as well as post-treatment support and care – and that Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) must ensure they commission appropriate end of life care.

Another target is investment in a modern high-quality service, including a permanent and sustainable model for the Cancer Drugs Fund and a nationally-commissioned molecular diagnostics service – something that Cancer Research UK has previously criticised the NHS for lacking.

Finally, the Taskforce recommended that there should be overhauled processes for commissioning, accountability and provision.

It has recommended that a National Cancer Team (NCT) should oversee the delivery of the strategy.

Harpal Kumar, chair of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, says: “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. Our expectation is that the Government and NHS will now make the investments required and implement this strategy with commitment and speed.”