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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 May 2007, 23:04 GMT 00:04 UK
Tsar calls for cancer care reform
Chemotherapy
Services such as chemotherapy can be given close to where patients live
Cancer services in England are in need of further reform in order to deliver better patient care, the government's cancer tsar has said.

Professor Mike Richards said simple tests and treatments should be made available closer to patients' homes.

But he said complex services must be provided in specialist centres so staff could develop expertise and experience.

Cancer Research UK agreed, saying the NHS "could not rest on its laurels" and should continue to improve services.

Not all health services can be provided locally
Professor Mike Richards,
Cancer tsar

The Cancer tsar's report, "Getting it right for people with cancer" says there have been many successes in cancer care.

It cites cutting death rates in the under 75s by almost 16%, a 49% increase in cancer specialists, a 520m investment in new and replacement specialist equipment and a tripling in the number of cancer patients who have entered clinical trials in recent years.

But Professor Richards said that, to meet the predicted increased future demand on services, "we need to push ahead with reforming the way cancer services are provided on the NHS".

He wants to see specialist teams created to co-ordinate patient care, and patients to get support so they can stay at home, rather than being admitted to hospital when not absolutely necessary.

'What I want for myself'

Professor Richards said: "Cancer care has improved greatly since I first qualified in the 1970s.

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"Re-organisation of services over recent years has played a key part in this and will continue to do so as the changes we are making are completed.

"It is important that we press on with these as cancer will become ever more common as more people live longer."

He added: "Some treatment and care needs to be concentrated in specialist centres so that clinicians with the right skills, experience and equipment are available to treat patients with complex needs safely.

"This is what I would want for myself if I were a patient.

"Not all health services can be provided locally, and to truly receive expert care they may need to travel a bit further but should be reassured that the benefits they reap will be worth it.

"At the same time, medical technology is also making it possible to treat many patients closer to home.

"For example, simple chemotherapy is now given in district hospitals rather than specialist centres, and this is being taken one step further with some patients receiving simple chemotherapy from nurses in outreach clinics - meaning sick people don't have to travel for simple routine treatment."

Professor Richards said it was important that new cancer drugs should be assessed for potential NHS use as quickly as possible by the drugs watchdog, the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).

Driving change

Professor John Toy, medical director for Cancer Research UK, said: "The development of the Cancer Plan has improved and delivered more co-ordinated care for today's cancer patients.

We must not rest on our laurels if we are to meet today's and the future challenges of cancer and more closely match the US and Europe in terms of cancer survival.
Professor John Toy, Cancer Research UK

"But we must not rest on our laurels if we are to meet today's and the future challenges of cancer and more closely match the US and Europe in terms of cancer survival.

The number of patients and the cost of diagnosing and treating them will rise significantly during the next decade and beyond.

"We are pleased that the government has decided to develop the Cancer Reform Strategy which will help drive forward change for the benefit of cancer patients.

"As more sophisticated and expensive treatments will become available it's essential that the NHS starts planning now for their introduction in the short to medium term."


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