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Survival rates come under scrutiny in cancer care report

The Health Foundation's report on cancer care in England highlights progress in many areas, but some progress has stalled

The Health Foundation's report on cancer care in England highlights progress in many areas, but some progress has stalled


Sir Mike Richards. Picture: Tim George

Despite progress in many areas of cancer care in England, more needs to be done to ensure survival rates match the rest of the world, a major new report has found.

Unfinished Business, published by The Health Foundation, looks at national approaches to improving cancer services between 1995 and 2015.

Successive strategies have mapped out plans. But the report’s authors, led by Sir Mike Richards, former Department of Health national cancer director, say that despite ambitions to be among the best in the world, cancer services in this country fall short.

In Australia, for example, a person diagnosed with colon cancer has a 71% chance of survival after five years compared with 60% in England. 

'Every year thousands of deaths could be avoided if we achieved these goals. This is the equivalent to a jumbo jet of people falling from the sky every two weeks'

Sir Mike Richards

Disruption caused by NHS reforms introduced in 2012 under the Health and Social Care Act is cited as one reason why services have stalled. That loss of momentum ‘has still not fully been regained’, The Health Foundation suggests.

However, it notes areas where advances have been made.

Emerging issues

‘Cancer nurse specialists have become normal, and patients are more likely to receive treatment in specialist centres,’ the report states. But it adds that as demand has grown, workforce shortages have emerged.

Among a series of recommendations, The Health Foundation says patients need to be encouraged to understand symptoms associated with cancer better, so they can seek help earlier.

And the authors argue that GPs should lower the thresholds for investigating and referring patients.

Professor Richards said the aims of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000 and later strategies had not been met.

‘Every year thousands of deaths could be avoided if we achieved these goals. This is the equivalent to a jumbo jet of people falling from the sky every two weeks.’

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