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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 August 2006, 23:42 GMT 00:42 UK
NHS 'needs new cancer care plan'
The plan covers all areas of cancer prevention and treatment
The NHS needs an updated plan to set out how cancer services should be delivered, a think-tank has said.

The government published a 10-year cancer plan in 2000, setting out how prevention and treatment services should be delivered.

But the King's Fund says a new plan is needed now to take into account changes to NHS funding policy and a move to provide more care away from hospitals.

The government said it was considering if a second plan was needed.

The health service is changing, and cancer services will need support to adapt to this
Dr Rebecca Rosen, King's Fund

Around 220,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in England, and the disease causes more than 128,000 deaths.

The total number of new cases of cancer is increasing by 1.4% per year.

Policy changes

The King's Fund report says there have been many successes under the current cancer plan including better survival rates, patient access and waiting times.

But it says there are a number of factors which have changed since the first plan was published six years ago.

It warns the population is ageing - the proportion of over 65s will grow from 16% in 2004 to 23% by 2031, increasing the number of people who will develop cancer in older age.

Survival rates are increasing and death rates are falling
Caroline Flint, Public health minister

In addition, new treatments, better screening and earlier diagnosis will result in more people living as cancer survivors.

NHS policy has also changed, which appears to be affecting cancer services already, according to the report by Dr Rebecca Rosen.

A policy called payment by results means that money follows the patient.

Dr Rosen said this could upset the existing "hub and spoke" system of cancer networks, where a specialist hospital assesses what treatment is required and then passes the patient on to a local hospital.

Payment by results means there could be an incentive for hospitals to retain patients, she warned.

Cancer services also need to reflect the move towards providing NHS care without hospital stays - perhaps as day care or community-based care, Dr Rosen said.

She added: "The impact of recent NHS reform is gathering pace and it is essential that future cancer policy anticipates the challenges and opportunities of people living longer, technological changes and policy shifts throughout the health service.

"We hope that this report will provide food for thought for the future of cancer services.

"The health service is changing, and cancer services will need support to adapt to this."

'A success'

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This report reminds us that the 2000 NHS Cancer Plan has been massively successful in transforming cancer services in England, delivering impressive results in the areas it targeted.

"But it also underlines the necessity of updating the plan to continue to improve services over the next decade."

Public health minister Caroline Flint said: "There is no doubt that the current cancer plan has been a success.

"Indeed, the King's Fund report acknowledges that it has achieved impressive results since it was published in 2000.

"The co-ordination of cancer services has been transformed, with more patients being seen by specialist teams, streamlined clinical pathways in place and faster access to services.

"Survival rates are increasing and death rates are falling.

"The first cancer plan was published in 2000 and sets out a ten year strategy. We are still only six years into that strategy. Three updates have so far been published, the last one in 2004.

"We will keep the decision on whether to publish a second cancer plan under review."

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