Cancer care slipping under coalition government, MPs warn

The DH and NHS England have allowed a 'loss of momentum' in improvements to cancer services, MPs have warned in a damning report highlighting 'unacceptable and unexplained' variations in care.

House of Commons: MPs warning over cancer care (Photo: Ian Bottle)
House of Commons: MPs warning over cancer care (Photo: Ian Bottle)

UK cancer care is poor compared with other European nations, the report warned, with nearly a third of people diagnosed with cancer dying within a year, and just half surviving for five years.

Survival rates and access to treatment for older people are ‘unjustifiably poor’ despite this inequality being highlighted in 2011, the MPs warned.

NHS England did not understand why variations in care quality occurred, and was failing to use available data to tackle the problem, the report said.

Cancer drugs fund

It added that ministers and NHS leaders extended the national cancer drugs fund until 2016 without the evidence to justify this.

The report also highlighted recent failures to hit the target for 85% of cancer patients to receive treatment within 62 days of an urgent GP referral.

It called for an assessment of whether the NHS had sufficient diagnostic capacity.

Since 2013, improvements have slipped because NHS England cut funding for cancer services and ‘downgraded the position of national clinical director for cancer to a part-time role’, MPs warned.

In 2011, the committee hailed significant improvements in cancer care since the publication in 2000 of a DH national cancer plan.

Committee chair Margaret Hodge (Lab, Barking) said the DH spent £6.7bn on cancer services, with the condition affecting one in three Britons at some point in their life.

Cancer funding cut

‘More and more people are getting cancer but the resources available to support improvement have gone down,’ she said.

‘It is unacceptable that NHS England does not understand the reasons why access to treatment and survival rates are considerably poorer for older people. ‘More generally, there is still unacceptable and unexplained variation in the performance of cancer services across the country.’

A DH spokeswoman said: ‘Cancer survival rates are now at their highest ever level, and we are on track to save an estimated 12,000 extra lives a year by the end of 2015.

‘We have invested an extra £750 million on cancer services, including early diagnosis and innovative radiotherapy. To drive further progress, NHS England has announced a new independent cancer taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer.’

Sean Duffy, national clinical director for cancer at NHS England, said: ‘We are diagnosing and treating more people than ever before and as a result the NHS is helping more people than ever survive cancer. But as this report highlights, it’s time to take a fresh look at how we can do even better.’

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