Local Health Boards in Wales must be held to account for delivering the government’s Cancer Delivery Plan, politicians have urged, and they also warn that, without “stronger national leadership,” the Plan’s goals may not be met.

The Minister for Health and Social Services must ensure there is a body with a clear remit and the necessary resources to provide drive and leadership of the Plan at national level, and should also remind LHBs of the Plan’s requirement for them to publish their local cancer delivery plans and annual reports on their websites, says the Health and Social Care Committee of the National Assembly for Wales. 

LHBs must also make this information “prominent and easy to locate,” to enable the public to hold them to account, adds the Committee, in a new report on the Plan, which was published in June 2012 and sets out the government’s cancer survival goals to 2016. Moreover, and as a matter of priority, the Minister should consider the development or replacement of the Cancer Network Information System Cymru (CaNISC), it adds.

Just before the Committee report was published, official figures showed that the Plan’s target for 95% of patients in Wales with urgent suspected cancer to begin treatment within 62 days was not being met. In August the figure was 85.2%, down from 85.8% in July, and no LHB had met the target. However, four Boards had met the target of 98% of non-urgent cases being seen within 31 days, with 97.7% of such patients starting treatment within the time in August and 97.2% in July.

The government has responded by pointing out that over the last 12 months, the number of people diagnosed with cancer through the urgent suspected pathway and starting treatment within 62 days has gone up 18% over the previous 12 months, and that, despite this increase, almost 90% of patients were beginning treatment within 62 days.

Publication of the Plan - Together Against Cancer, Wales first-ever comprehensive strategy to improve national cancer survival rates so that they are comparable with the best in Europe - was welcomed by campaigners. However, unveiling the strategy in June 2012, Health Minister Lesley Griffiths stressed that Wales would not be introducing a Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF), as England had done, as there was no evidence that this would make any difference to quality of life or survival.

“Rather, evidence shows cancer survival is more closely linked to early diagnosis and treatment. It is therefore on these issues our Cancer Delivery Plan focuses,” she said.

In March this year an assessment of the CDF by researchers at the University of Bristol found that cancer patients in England were up to seven times more likely to be prescribed expensive cancer drugs than such patients in Wales. However, the study, published in the British Journal of Cancer, also found that the most recently-launched drugs - GlaxoSmithKline’s Votrient (pazopanib), bendamustine (Napp Pharmaceuticals’ Levact and Teva’s Treanda), plus Johnson & Johnson’s Zytiga (abiraterone ) - which were awaiting appraisal by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) at the time the CDF was set up in England and had since been approved, were adopted faster in Wales than in England.

Nevertheless, the study shows that the CDF has created an inequality between cancer sufferers in England and Wales, and this “raises ethical, moral, financial and policy concerns,” said lead researcher Dr Charlotte Chamberlain.