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Government targets faster cancer diagnosis

A commitment to 28-day cancer diagnosis by 2020 has been welcomed by the Society of Radiographers and the Royal College of Radiologists.

"From 2020, patients will be given either a definitive cancer diagnosis - leading to treatment - or the all-clear within 28 days of being referred to a GP." That was the pledge made recently by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt in his first major response to recommendations contained in a report by the Independent Cancer Taskforce, published earlier this year.

In Achieving World-class Cancer Outcomes: a Strategy for England 2015-2020 it was estimated that earlier cancer diagnosis could save 11,000 lives each year. The new target will be underpinned by an expected £300 million of additional investment in diagnostics, made possible by the extra £8 billion promised by the Chancellor in his April budget. Richard Evans, CEO of the Society of Radiographers, said, "The SCoR has been saying for years that early diagnosis and treatment are the key to boosting cancer survival rates and it is good to hear the Government is on board."

The earlier diagnosis recommendation is one of six strategic priorities in the Taskforce's report, which outlines how 30,000 more patients every year could survive cancer for 10 years or more. Other recommendations include having a replacement plan for LINAC radiotherapy machines (see this earlier blog post). Responding at the time of the report's publication, the Society of Radiographers' Charlotte Beardmore commented, "We will also need major capital investment in radiotherapy, with a far-reaching programme to replace ageing and out-of-date machines." 

Dealing with the 'critical deficits' in the cancer workforce was another key priority identified in the report, prompting the Royal College of Radiologists to call for a major increase in the number of clinical radiologist training places. In March the College highlighted a chronic shortage of radiologists throughout the UK, with only 48 trained radiologists per million population, compared with 92 in Germany, 112 in Spain and 130 in France.

Cross-party consensus

The All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPGC) works hard to keep cancer at the top of the political agenda. In its latest report, Cancer Across the Domains: a Vision for 2020, the APPGC placed early diagnosis at the heart of the drive to improve cancer outcomes. It was their campaigning from 2009 onwards that eventually resulted in Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) having the freedom to design local solutions to improve earlier cancer diagnosis appropriate to their populations. The APPGC also successfully lobbied for the inclusion of one-year survival rates in the 2015-16 CCG Assurance Framework, known as the 'Delivery Dashboard'.

"The current Government is following through on the good work of the Coalition, maintaining cancer as a key priority of the NHS," said APPGC Chairman John Baron MP in a recent interview with the New Statesman. "It is an inspiring time to be involved with cancer policy."

In their election manifesto, the Conservatives pledged to work with the NHS, charities and patient groups to deliver the cancer strategy recommended by the Taskforce. They have promised to respond formally in full to the recommendations 'in due course'.  With the number of people in the UK living with cancer predicted to rise by 3% per year to reach four million by 2030, our over-stretched radiography and radiology workforce will no doubt be hoping that means sooner rather than later. As NHS Chief Executive Simon Stevens put it, "Over the next five years we need a major ramp-up in diagnostic testing, nurse endoscopists, and patient access, and the time to get started is now."

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