NHS England has launched a new programme to test innovative ways of diagnosing cancer more quickly at over 60 sites across the country.

The agency has also announced the setting-up of a new independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services, headed by Cancer Research UK chief executive Harpal Kumar.

The early-diagnosis programme will work with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support to test seven new approaches to identifying cancer more quickly, collecting evidence on approaches that could be implemented from 2016/17. These initiatives will include: offering patients the option to self-refer for diagnostic tests, lowering referral thresholds for GPs; and multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres where patients can have several tests in the same place on the same day.

There will also be moves to improve the monitoring of cancer survival at local level, with the inclusion of a one-year cancer survival indicator in the system used to ensure clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) are delivering.

In addition, NHS England’s Commissioning through Evaluation programme is to be extended to include stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR), an innovative radiotherapy treatment costing in the region of £5 million a year, This development follows a campaign led by former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio to make SABR more widely available. Some 750 new patients are now expected to access the treatment each year, and the number of cancers being treated will be widened to include oligometastatic disease (cancer that has spread to another part of the body), primary liver tumours, spinal tumours, the re-irradiation of cancers in the pelvis and other indications.

The new taskforce has been asked to deliver the vision set out in the NHS Five-Year Forward View, which calls for action on better prevention, swifter diagnosis and better treatment, care and aftercare for all people diagnosed with cancer. The group will work across the whole health system, including cancer specialist doctors and clinicians, patient groups and charity leaders, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Public Health England, local councils and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP).

“Cancer survival rates in England are at an all-time high, but too many patients are still being diagnosed late - up to one in four only when they present in A&E,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens. “So it’s time for a fresh look at low we can do even better - with more focus on prevention, earlier diagnosis and modern radiotherapy and other services, so that over the next five years we can save at least 8,000 more lives a year,” he added,