Editorial - PCTs must invest more in tests for cancer

If England were to achieve cancer survival rates at the European average, then 5,000 lives would be saved every year. The figure jumps to 10,000 if England's performance were to achieve cancer survival rates at the European best. So says the DH's cancer strategy, which was launched in January 2011.

Comparisons with Europe are always instructive, although perhaps not at this weekend's Eurovision Song Contest or next month's European Football Championships, but aspiring to be among the best is a worthy ambition.

This week's exclusive investigation by GP reveals that far from taking action to thrust England to the top of the league table, half of PCTs are failing to invest in extra cancer tests. The DH has called repeatedly over the past two years for PCTs to begin planning extra capacity in endoscopy services ahead of a long-term drive to improve early cancer detection, particularly bowel cancer.

Our investigation of 94 PCTs found that 85% of PCTs that did not invest in 2011/12 have no plans to do so in 2012/13. Trusts argued that services are sufficient to meet current demands. Only last August, NHS medical director Sir Bruce Keogh warned the NHS to prepare for a 50% increase in two-week wait referrals for suspected bowel cancer as a result of the bowel cancer awareness campaign launched in January 2012.

Despite the DH giving extra cash to PCTs to invest in services, our investigation found that only a third of PCTs could specify how they plan to spend these funds.

GPs and charities have already warned that endoscopy capacity was 'at its limit'.

Clinical commissioning groups will no doubt bring a GP focus to the argument but there seems no reason why PCTs should not invest more in scans for cancer to increase England's reputation in Europe.

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