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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 11:12 GMT 12:12 UK
NHS is 'hitting cancer targets'
Image of radiotherapy
Earlier treatment can improve survival rates
The NHS has met nearly all of the cancer treatment waiting times targets set by government, a report says.

Nobody in England with cancer now waits more than a month for treatment after seeing a consultant.

And almost all with suspected cancer get treatment if needed within two months of being referred by their GP, the government's cancer tsar found.

National Cancer Director Mike Richards praised the progress but said tougher targets were now needed.

Hitting targets

The NHS Cancer Plan, drawn up in 2000, proposed that by 2005 no patient would wait longer than 62 days from urgent GP referral to first treatment, or longer than 31 days from diagnosis to first treatment.

Last July 92.7% of patients were treated within the 31 day target and 75.8% within the 62 day target.

This July everyone was treated within the 31 day target and 94.5% of patients were treated within the 62 day target.

Professor Richards praised the NHS for re-designing the way it delivers services to ensure that patients are diagnosed quicker and treated faster.

He said: "This report outlines how hard, and how successfully, the NHS has worked to achieve shorter waiting times for cancer patients."

He added that the challenge now was how to maximise the number of cancer patients benefiting from rapid assessment, diagnosis and treatment.

Future challenges

He suggested that the current targets could be extended.

The 31 day target could cover all treatments, not just the first treatment patients receive, for example.

Hospital specialists could also be given the formal right to fast-track patients who they consider are likely to have cancer.

The Cancer Plan also set a target that all patients referred urgently by their GP for suspected cancer should be assessed within two weeks.

Professor Richards said this target, which was fully achieved in 2003, could now be extended to include all patients referred with breast problems, not just those deemed urgent by their GP.

Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt agreed, saying: "We are now in a position to look at extending the benefits of more streamlined services to thousands more cancer patients."

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, as the UK's ageing population grows.

Derryn Borley, of Cancerbackup, said: "The figures are very encouraging and are of course good news for people diagnosed with cancer.

"However, what is missing from this report is the measurement of the entire patient journey.

"All these measures must be embodied in an updated national cancer plan, so as to ensure first class cancer services throughout the patient journey."

Peter Cardy, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, welcomed the reduction in waiting times but called for measures to improve the quality of lifeof people with cancer, both during and after treatment.

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