Government pledges £1.5bn to speed up cancer diagnosis after GP referral

The government will invest an additional £1.5bn into cancer diagnostics over the next five years to ensure that all patients receive a definitive diagnosis or all-clear within four weeks of GP referral.

Up to £300m every year for five years will be plugged into improving cancer diagnostics to speed up diagnosis and help lead the NHS to ‘world-class cancer outcomes’ by 2020, the government has pledged.

It is hoped that improving the turnaround of diagnostic results could save up to 11,000 lives a year.

Plans laid out by the Independent Cancer Taskforce, set up to help deliver the aims of the NHS Five Year Forward View, state that access to diagnostics should be improved so that all patients receive their test results within 28 days of initial referral.

Although the current system ensures all patients urgently referred by their GP see a specialist within two weeks, there is no guideline for when patients should expect the results.

GP cancer diagnostics

The funding pledge comes just weeks after charity Cancer Research UK warned that the NHS is failing to meet rising demand for tests, with many GPs being denied access as services are understaffed and underfunded.

The government also announced that Health Education England (HEE) will launch a new programme to train an additional 200 staff with the expertise to carry out endoscopies by 2018, opening up capacity for 500,000 more tests by 2020.

Patients diagnosed with cancer will also be given a ‘tailored recovery package’, health secretary Jeremy Hunt said. Around 20,000 more patients will have their cancers genetically tested to identify the most effective treatments and reduce unnecessary chemotherapy treatments.

The health secretary said: ‘For people who are worried they may have cancer, waiting for that all important test result is a nerve-wracking time. We have a duty to make sure this period of uncertainty is as short as possible.

Quicker diagnosis

‘For those who get the all clear, they will have peace of mind sooner. Those who sadly have cancer will get treatment much quicker and we will save thousands of lives as a result.’

Harpal Kumar, chair of the Independent Cancer Taskforce, said: ‘These commitments are going to save thousands of lives and deliver a step change in patient experience and quality of life, so this is fantastic news.

‘We’ve shown that services for diagnosing cancer are under immense pressure, which is why increased investment and extra staff are so important. Introducing the 28-day ambition for patients to receive a diagnosis will maximise the impact of this investment which, together with making results available online, will spare people unnecessary added anxiety and help cancer patients to begin treatment sooner.’

Photo: iStock

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