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Last Updated: Monday, 3 December 2007, 11:13 GMT
Plan to boost cancer patient care
cancer screening
Screening and treatment has improved cancer survival
Plans for reform of cancer services in England have been set out by ministers.

Cancer survival in the UK is still below the European average, despite recent improvements and the publication of the first Cancer Plan in 2000.

The plans, unveiled by Health Secretary Alan Johnson, will be underpinned by a 370m investment by 2010.

They include speeding up drug approval, more money for radiotherapy services and a possible clampdown on sun beds and cigarette vending machines.

Breast and bowel cancer screening programmes will be extended.

There will be a greater emphasis on preventing cancer, and providing more support for people living with the long-term effects of the disease.

Ministers - mindful that smoking is linked to one in three cancers - will test public opinion on whether to ban cigarette vending machines, and reduce cigarette displays in shops.

Experience with family members has shown that only those who went private stood a chance of real recovery
Anne Wotana Kaye, London

They also plan a review of regulation and use of sun beds to try to cut cases of skin cancer, which has been rising in recent years.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the service reforms would serve as a "road map to a higher standard of care available to all".

But the Conservatives said the announcement amounts to an admission of failure, and said the government's original Cancer Plan had failed to deliver its promises.

Key elements of the NHS Cancer Reform Strategy include:

  • 200m investment to boost radiotherapy capacity over the next three years, with cash for new equipment and staff.

  • Where possible, cancer drugs will be assessed by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) at the same time as they go through the licensing process to make them available to patients more quickly.

  • Measures to improve detection of cancer in primary care.

  • Extension of the NHS breast cancer screening programme to all women aged 47 to 73 by 2012.

  • Extension of the NHS bowel screening programme from 2010 to all men and women aged 70 to 75.

Cancer survival rates have improved massively in recent years - around 50% of people now live for more than five years after a cancer diagnosis.

I want to build world class-cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage
Alan Johnson
Health Secretary

However, more people are now getting the disease, and it still kills around 125,000 people in England every year.

Mr Brown said the plan demonstrated the "very highest priority" attached to fighting the disease.

He said: "We must do more to ensure treatment is of the highest quality and I believe this plan can act as a road map to a higher standard of care, available to all."

Mr Johnson said: "Clinicians, patients and cancer charities tell us that cancer care has improved significantly in the last 10 years thanks to investment and reform, but I am determined to go further.

"I want to build world class-cancer services that give NHS patients access to top quality treatment at every stage."

Shorter waits

Dr Mike Williams, vice president the Royal Society of Radiologists, welcomed the investment in radiotherapy.

He said at present about half of radiotherapy patients waited longer than the government target of 31 days for treatment.

Dr Richard Barker, director general of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, warned plans to speed up NICE assessment of drugs may not be practical.

He said: "With most medicines it is difficult to assess medicines' cost-effectiveness at launch - the relevant data are simply not available - and this is especially true of cancer medicines."

Professor Karol Sikora, a cancer expert at Imperial College School of Medicine, said he was not confident the new strategy would have the desired effect.

He said the UK was good at treating rarer cancers, but less impressive at dealing with the most common forms of the disease, such as breast, bowel, prostate and lung.

He said: "The real way forward is to delegate the problem to the specialists on the ground who know what they are doing."

Shadow health minister Mark Simmonds said: "Gordon Brown and Alan Johnson have been forced to admit their failure to achieve the best cancer survival rates in Europe, despite the huge amount of money they've spent on trying.

"What is saddening is that if the UK achieved European-best levels of cancer survival rates then 95 lives each day could be saved."

Norman Lamb, the Liberal Democrat health spokesman, warned that the government had previously failed to secure value for money in the NHS.

He said the key would be to tackle the fact that the most disadvantaged groups in society were at the greatest risk of serious disease, such as cancer.

Map showing cancer mortality rates in European countries

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