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Last Updated: Thursday, 26 January 2006, 00:26 GMT
Cancer care plan progress 'mixed'
Cancer care
The 10-year NHS Cancer Plan was published in 2000
There are still problems in improving cancer services despite the significant progress made in recent years, MPs say.

The Commons' Public Accounts Committee report on the 10-year Cancer Plan said results were mixed, but that there were major improvements in services.

MPs praised the availability of drugs. But criticism came for inequalities in death rates across the UK and lack of effective performance monitoring.

The government said it was aware work still needed to be done.

The Cancer Plan, published in 2000, set out a programme of reform to improve services, speed up treatment, increase investment and tackle the so-called postcode lottery in care.

We still need to tackle the unfinished business of the continuing cancer inequalities faced by those most in need of help, and then shift the focus on to improving the patients' experience
Peter Cardy, Macmillan Cancer Relief

The cross party group of MPs said there had been significant improvement in some areas, but warned the plan was failing elsewhere.

Chairman Edward Leigh, a Tory MP, said: "The picture is mixed at this halfway point in the 10-year course of the plan.

"The NHS has met a number of important targets and there has been significant progress in improving cancer services and in making approved cancer drugs more available.

"But there are areas where progress has not been impressive."

The report cited the fact that one in three cancer networks - regional groupings of hospitals, local health managers, councils and the voluntary sector set up to co-ordinate services - had no comprehensive plans in place and monitoring of performance was also said to be "inconsistent".

Disparities

And the MPs said there were "clear disparities between the affluent and poorer members of society", with higher mortality rates in deprived areas and survival rates which consistently favour London and the south.

Waiting and staffing targets had been met, the MPs said, but the plan to develop a public awareness campaign about cancer symptoms had not been met.

As a result, the UK still had some of the latest diagnosis rates in Europe.

The report also said the Cancer Plan needed to be redrafted because since it was published the NHS has undergone major restructuring with the setting up of 300 primary care trusts, regional strategic health authorities and foundation hospitals.

But extra investment was praised by the group of MPs, who said the 280m invested in 2001-2 had risen to 570m in 2003-4.

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Relief, said the government should conduct its own review into the Cancer Plan.

"We still need to tackle the unfinished business of the continuing cancer inequalities faced by those most in need of help, and then shift the focus on to improving the patients' experience," he said.

John Toy, medical director of Cancer Research UK, said the findings were "astonishing" and the health inequalities, in particular, were "very depressing".

And Shadow Health Minister John Baron added: "There are still unacceptable shortfalls in the provision of cancer care."

But Health Minister Rosie Winterton said the report highlighted "significant progress".

She added: "We are not complacent - we are only six years into 10-year plan and remain determined to tackle the challenges ahead."




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