Plans for speedier cancer diagnosis in the UK

14 Dec 2010

Speaking at the Britain Against Cancer conference today the UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley, outlined plans which will see thousands of patients benefit from better cancer services and outcomes thanks to the Government's NHS reforms.

Late diagnosis is widely accepted as the main reason for England's survival rates for many cancers lagging behind the EU average.

As part of a raft of measures to improve earlier diagnosis, funding of over £25 million will be made available in 2011/12 to help GPs get direct access to additional tests for cancer.

GPs can already secure chest x-rays for lung cancer if they have a patient who has symptoms but does not meet the criteria for the two-week urgent referral pathway for suspected cancer.

The additional money, which will fund up to 150,000 extra tests, will mean GPs will also be able to begin to have access to:

- non-obstetric ultrasound – to support the diagnosis of ovarian cancer;

- flexible sigmoidoscopy/colonoscopy – to support the diagnosis of bowel cancer; and

- brain MRI scans – to support the diagnosis of brain cancer.

The Government plans to publish a strategy to improve cancer outcomes in the New Year. That strategy will set out plans to build on this initial plan to give GPs better access to cancer diagnostics.

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said:

"A typical GP may see only eight or nine new patients with cancer every year, but they may see hundreds presenting with symptoms that could be cancer.

"So we need to give them the support, the resources and the authority they need to reduce delays in diagnosis. And that includes fast and direct access to the right diagnostic tests."

Today's announcement follows a series of commitments already made to improve prevention, awareness and early intervention.

In October, the British Prime Minister announced that, subject to National Screening Committee advice, £60 million will be invested over four years to roll out a new bowel cancer screening technology, flexible sigmoidoscopy. This could save up to 3,000 lives a year.

And in January, an awareness campaign on spotting the early signs and symptoms of breast, lung and bowel cancers will be launched.

While recognising the improvements in cancer care over the last 30 years, the Coalition Government is committed to going further and faster by creating a service which is responsive to cancer patients, which recognises the needs of local communities, and which empowers doctors and nurses to take decisions in the best interests of their patients.

Addressing an audience of patients, health professionals and cancer charities at the conference in Westminster, the Health Secretary also outlined plans to:

- publish a library of national standards setting out what 'good' looks like in the care and treatment of various cancers;

- develop a range of tariffs to reward high quality, cost-effective services, and – crucially – to incentivise innovation and early adoption of new techniques; and

- support commissioners by providing them with the high-quality information they need by building on the improvements which have already been made in this area through the partners which form the National Cancer Intelligence Network (NCIN).

Source: UK Department of Health