The Welsh Assembly Government must develop a long-term national cancer plan, similar to those in place in England and Scotland, to ensure that the 14,000 Welsh patients who are diagnosed with the disease each year can benefit from effective new treatments and support, according to charities coalition the Wales Cancer Alliance.

“Wales currently has a plethora of policies, yet has failed to produce a one-stop, focused vision that would ensure the delivery of the best cancer services possible for the people of Wales. A comprehensive, patient-centred Cancer Plan for Wales, with ring-fenced funding, is needed to pull together the existing policies, standards and strategies,” says the Alliance, which organized, with the Wales Cancer Institute, the annual Wales Cancer Conference in Cardiff last week.

Wales has some of the highest instances of cancer in the UK and indeed Europe, and much of this is connected with the relatively high levels of deprivation found in Wales, according to Cancer Research UK, one of the Alliance partners. The charity’s director of policy and public affairs, Richard Davidson, said that developing a cancer plan for Wales will take vision, commitment and renewed investment, but called on the Assembly Government to “seize this vital opportunity.”

Speakers at the conference called for all effective cancer treatments to be made available free on the National Health Service (NHS), but Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, chairman of the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE), warned that spending a lot of money on a few patients means that many others will have to go without. “One patient’s choice of a very, very expensive treatment will inevitably deprive other people of less expensive products,” he said, adding: “if we want to spend more, we either raise income tax or we move money from other areas of public expenditure, such as education.”

Welsh Assembly officials point out that the government is currently working on a 2008-2011 strategy for cancer, as outlined in its December 2006 policy statement entitled Designed to Tackle Cancer in Wales, and in March Health Minister Edwina Hart announced £4.5 million additional funding for each of the regional cancer networks to support the cancer strategy’s implementation from 2007-8. A key requirement of NHS Wales is to achieve full compliance with the National Cancer Standards by March 2009, they add.

- Meantime, Welsh-born biotechnology entrepreneur Sir Christopher Evans says he is planning to hold talks over the next few months with Assembly Government members and business leaders aimed at setting up an investment fund for medical projects in Wales. The fund would be run by Excalibur, a new investment house formed through the merger of Sir Christopher’s Merlin Biosciences life sciences investment firm with financial services group Merchant Ventures.