The government has cited “expensive” new drugs as a factor in its decision to effectively review its national cancer plan. National cancer director Mike Richards will work with health professionals and cancer charities to develop the strategy, which ministers say will build on the “success” of the NHS cancer plan launched in 2000.

The move follows controversy over the NHS’ limited use of a new generation of cancer drugs following controversial recommendations by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, notably over the breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Addressing the Britain Against Cancer conference yesterday, health secretary Patricia Hewitt said the strategy will help spread best practice and make clear to cancer networks and the NHS what needs to be done to improve clinical outcomes and increase value for money.

Ms Hewitt made clear that the strategy would not be based on more money going to cancer services, but on reforms that give patients more choice and strengthened commissioning.

This point was picked up by Mr Richards, who said: “The number of new cases of cancer is rising, as are patients’ expectations. New treatments are in development, which are likely to be expensive. We now need to deliver high quality care to everyone with cancer and to get the best possible value for money within the NHS.”

He will announce the process for developing the strategy this month.

Planning for the future

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive at Cancer Research UK, welcomed the commitment, saying: “The 2000 NHS cancer plan has been massively successful in transforming cancer services in England, delivering impressive results in the areas it targeted. But as more sophisticated and expensive treatments become available, it is essential that the NHS starts planning now for their introduction in the medium term.”

Cancer charities pointed to the rows over the new generation of drugs as a key issue for those working on the strategy.

Vicki Nash, spokeswoman for Breakthrough Breast Cancer said: "There have been significant improvements in cancer care and treatment since the introduction of the 2000 NHS Cancer Plan. However, as the Herceptin debate demonstrated, we know there is still a wide variation in care and treatment provided for breast cancer across the UK. Breakthrough hopes the Cancer Reform Strategy will help improve service further and help the NHS prepare for the many potential new treatments in the pipeline."

An ABPI spokesman welcomed the move and said the new strategy would draw on work by the Phamaceutical Oncology Initiative.

The initiative, which is led by the ABPI and Department of Health, is working with oncology departments on capacity planning issues arising from the new generation of drugs – including both cost and aspects of patient care affected by the new drugs. By Chris Mahony