A pile up of NHS reforms, efficiency savings and burgeoning demands has pushed cancer services in England to breaking point, warns a new report commissioned by Cancer Research UK.

The report calls on the government to sink more cash into cancer services, to ensure that the momentum and achievements seen in recent years are not eroded.

There is a particularly urgent need for greater investment in diagnostics, it says, because “rising demand is starting to outstrip the resources available”. 

This is being driven by a huge jump in referrals, presumably because of the drive for greater awareness and earlier diagnosis; in 2013-14, more 1.4 million patients in England were referred by their GP for suspected cancer, representing a 50% increase from 2009-10. 

A loss of leadership capacity at national and local level (from the demise of the National Cancer Action Team) was also highlighted as an issue, as well as fragmented commissioning and a wide variation in the roles and responsibilities of new NHS organisations.

Leadership needed

To help address this, it recommends that the Department of Health create a recognised cancer leadership team to provide support and strategic oversight to NHS England, Public Health England, and the government, as well as review the DH report Improving Outcomes: a Strategy for Cancer, in light of the changes to NHS structures.

Also, NHS England should provide greater funding and support to Clinical Reference Groups to “help them drive real improvements” in the system, and the DH, NHS England and PHE must “urgently clarify and communicate the responsibilities of difference commissioners of cancer services” to help create a clearer picture.

According to CR UK chief executive Harpal Kumar, the increase in cancer survival and an ageing population means that “we’ll be diagnosing more people, treating more people and helping more people recover from cancer in coming decades”, and he stressed that the NHS “will need to be fit to meet that purpose and that needs increased investment, planning and leadership now”.

But in a statement to PharmaTimes World News online, PHE spokesperson Jane Ellison stressed that progress is being made.

“This Government has prioritised cancer, investing three-quarters of a billion pounds over four years to improve early diagnosis and treatment, and just last month announced an extra £160 million for the Cancer Drugs Fund and £6m towards a revolutionary new type of radiotherapy,” she said, adding that “demand is growing – but survival rates are improving just as we treat record numbers of NHS patients for cancer.”