Cancer plans in England and Scotland are more comprehensive than those in Wales and Northern Ireland, a report by Cancer Research UK has revealed, once again highlighting the differences between the four countries of Great Britain since devolution.

According to its analysis of national cancer plans, which it says is the first report of its kind, experts believe cancer services in England and Wales have seen improvements since 2006, with progress in prevention, new treatments and the standardisation of care CR UK noted.

On the down side, health professionals believe the Welsh Assembly Government needs to urgently review its cancer plan, as it needs to be more comprehensive and given a higher level of priority, the report found.

In addition, the Northern Ireland Executive is yet to publish its own Service Framework for cancer, which is essential if healthcare professionals are to adequately plan and establish of effective services for the future.

Overall, the report found that while cancer plans have indeed helped improve patient outcomes, there is still much to be done, particularly if health services are to be able to meet the growing demand of an ageing population and during a time of financial constraints.

The charity’s report makes no less than 49 recommendations that it says must be addressed in future cancer plans, but has placed a very strong emphasis on securing earlier diagnosis of the disease, through improving awareness and screening programmes, as this is crucial to treatment outcomes.

Other recommendations include: a prompt assessment of new drug by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, as close to the date of licensing as possible; the assistance of Cancer Networks in GP commissioning; commissioning of cancer services by highly-skilled and experienced NHS staff; the use of National Standards so cement standardised care; and a sustained, long-term investment in cancer services by the government.

“To continue to improve cancer outcomes, and to make our outcomes among the best in the world in the coming years, we need to maintain comprehensive cancer plans that set national direction, incentivise action and dedicate resource to beating cancer,” CR UK stressed.

The charity has welcomed the coalition government's promise to review the cancer plan in England. Earlier this year the NHS Cancer Plan, published in 2000, was accused of failing to address inequalities after it was found that patients from poorer areas of the country - as well as older and female patients - were more likely to be admitted as emergency cases, indicating that their disease is being diagnosed at a later stage.