NHS launches new bid to beat cancer and save thousands of lives

NHS England today (Sunday) announced a new independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services that will improve survival rates and save thousands of lives.

It also launched a major new programme to test innovative ways of diagnosing cancer more quickly at more than 60 sites across the country, and committed a further £15m over three years to evaluate and treat patients with a type of modern radiotherapy.

More than one in three people in the UK develop cancer and half will now live for at least ten years – forty years ago average survival was just one year.  But for some cancers patients are being diagnosed late so that some survival rates are below the European average.

The taskforce has been asked to deliver the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, which calls for action on three fronts: better prevention; swifter diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer.

Chaired by Cancer Research UK Chief Executive Harpal Kumar, the taskforce will work across the entire health system. It will include cancer specialist doctors and clinicians, patients groups and charity leaders, including Macmillan Cancer Support, Public Health England, local councils, and the Royal College of GPs.

It will consider prevention, first contact with services, diagnosis, treatment, support for those living with and beyond cancer, and end-of-life care, as well as how all these services will need to develop and innovate in future.  It will assess the opportunity for improved cancer care by March 2015 and produce a new five-year cancer strategy by the summer.

Alongside the taskforce, NHS England announced:

  • the launch of a major early-diagnosis programme,working jointly with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support, testing seven new approaches to identifying cancer more quickly. The aim is to evaluate a number of initiatives across more than 60 sites around the country to collect evidence on approaches that could be implemented from 2016/17.Initiatives will include: offering patients the option to self-refer for diagnostic tests; lowering referral thresholds for GPs; and multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres where patients can have several tests in the same place on the same day.
  • the extension of NHS England’s Commissioning through Evaluation programme to innovative radiotherapy treatment, stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) costing in the region of £5m each year. This new commitment comes following a campaign led by former England rugby captain Lawrence Dallaglio, aiming to make SABR more widely available to cancer patients in England. NHS England’s evaluation programme will enable the number of cancer patients eligible to access SABR treatment to rise significantly, by 750 new patients a year. The programme will widen the number of cancers being treated to include the treatment of oligometastatic disease (cancer that has spread to another part of the body), primary liver tumours, spinal tumours, the re-irradiation of cancers in the pelvis and other selected indications.This investment is in addition to NHS England’s pledge to fund up to £6m over the next five years to cover the NHS treatment costs of SABR clinical trials led by Cancer Research UK.
  • An improvement to the monitoring of cancer survival at a local level. NHS England will include a one-year cancer survival indicator in the assurance system used to ensure Clinical Commissioning Groups are delivering. This puts cancer survival at the front and centre for every single CCG across the country.

Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK and head of the NHS cancer taskforce, said: “The Five-Year-Forward View has set out a compelling vision for the delivery of health services. We now need to turn the vision into a reality for the thousands of patients diagnosed with cancer every week. We also know that many more people will be diagnosed with cancer in the years ahead. Cancer Research UK is projecting an increase of a third in the number of cases over the next 15 years. So the time is right to set new ambitions and to take a fresh look at how we will meet this need. I am honoured to have been asked to lead this cross-system group which will address this.”

Lawrence Dallaglio, campaigner for improved cancer services, said: “This project is a significant step forward for patient access to advanced radiotherapy in our country. It will double the number of cancer patients being treated with SABR, more than double the number of cancers treated and, just as importantly, lead the way for patients to be treated within their own regions. There remains a good way to go but this agreement shows that when we all work together great things can be achieved.”

NHS England’s chief executive, Simon Stevens, said: “Cancer survival rates in England are at an all-time high, but too many patients are still being diagnosed late – up to one in four only when they present in A&E. So it’s time for a fresh look at how we can do even better – with more focus on prevention, earlier diagnosis and modern radiotherapy and other services so that over the next five years we can save at least 8000 more lives a year.”

More on the cancer taskforce and how you can get involved here.


  1. Verite Reily Collins says:

    What is being done to help survivors with long term side effects from cancer drugs?

    We receive little or no help from GPs – three whom I asked told me they had no interest/knowledge of cancer..

    After one GP when asked for help with drug-induced neuropathy gave me long lecture about how NHS needs to save money. I went to see relevant specialist privately, who told me I had every right to be given the treatment I needed on NHS. I suspect he wrote a strong letter to GP, which destroyed any rapport, and it had cost me £250 to get what I needed.

    After two years of asking for help with another side effect, I chanced to find that the relevant specialist was working in hospital in same street. When I went to him things were so urgent that I was immediately sent off for five different sets of tests.

    The NCSI has been useless; if I need accurate information I go on US website such as ASCO. And I read WHO figures that say on average French, etc. live years longer post-cancer than we do/

    As a patient, hoping to survive, I am having to spend life savings to get treatment that would be given automatically abroad.

    Would like to know whom Survivors can go to for help – because it certainly isn’t our GP.


  2. Pat says:

    Earlier diagnosis would greatly improve the outcome for Cancer Patients. GP surgeries are the biggest barrier to improving the service. It is difficult to get an appointment in the first place and then the patient has to return a number of times before they are taken seriously. There is a need for more education in the Primary Care setting which should include all the staff. Patients report that they have difficulty getting an appointment within a reasonable time.

  3. Sarah-Jane Summer says:

    The Five Year Forward Project is pleasing to hear and read about.

    I hope the Diagnostic Centre includes body scanners for people diagnosed with skin cancer and/or considered to be in remission from skin cancer. It is often not helpful to only survey a persons external body for skin changes, when there can potentially be cells which have broken away and are developing in vital organs etc., causing terminal secondary cancer.

    I will be following with great interest.

  4. Mr Jeremy Crew says:

    Bladder cancer remains one of the few cancers in which survival is actually worsening. This is undoubtedly multifactorial and is in part related to;
    1] Lack of public and GP awareness about the disease and symptoms
    2] Lack of funding for research
    3] Lack of funding for new treatment modalities
    4] Lack of focused bladder cancer specialists
    5] Lack of priority for ongoing surveillance of the disease (check cystoscopys) due to priority focusing on other centrally dictated targets.

    Any initiatives that addresses these deficiencies will directly benefit patients with bladder cancer.

    Jeremy Crew
    Consultant Urologist
    On behalf of the Action on Bladder Cancer Charity

  5. Dianne Jones says:

    In the latest document regarding the early warning signs of cancer all of the major cancers are covered, Breast,bowel,pancreatic etc but no mention of brain tumours! and yet this is the biggest cancer killer of children and second in adults. This needs to be addressed urgently, Come on Brain tumours need to be identified early if individuals are to be treated more effectively.

  6. Dr Vetrivel Velamail says:

    In the case of brain cancer, the survival rate is not improving. There needs to be greater awareness amongst GPs and the general public. I know because I was a GP until I was diagnosed with a brain cancer. My colleagues and non oncology hospital consultants are not aware either. Certainly in my area, GPs have no access to MRI scans. HeadSmart cards issued by Brain Tumour Charity would aid early diagnosis in the under 18 year olds and possibly save lives. Finally, compared to other cancers less is spent on research for cures. Please contact Brain Tumour Research for Brain Tumour Charity for further information.
    Thank you.
    Dr V Velamail

  7. Paula Middlebrook says:

    Please advise therfroe what work and investment will accompany the significant increase in diagnostic services that will be required in order to absorbed the work created by self referral & more early awareness campaigns. The last 2 years of earl;y awareness campaigns have caused significanmt pressuresin diagnostics as tehy are also stretched by non cancer diagnostic developments.

  8. Mandy Annear says:

    I hope the Brain Tumours (including Low Grade gliomas) are also taken into consideration here. Funding for research and treatment for this has been ignored for a long time.

  9. Pleasant Strong says:

    It is good to see that a one year cancer survival data will be used to see how Clinical Commissioning Groups are doing at local level. I would also like to see the following:
    1. All data to be made public
    2. The information sub-divided into different cancers
    3. 5 year survival rates added

    This way, we can all see where problems are occurring, where help is needed and where best practice might be shared.

  10. Tony Murphy says:

    I volunteer as a lay person in a number of ways for cancer, including for the Royal College of Radiologists. I am acutely aware of the stresses and strains within diagnostics of having a scan and reporting the results that already exist. I welcome the new initiative to enhance early diagnosis so that surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used in early stages of the disease. But there are several hurdles to overcome.
    For example, in terms of self referral, what if someone has a headache and thinks they may have a brain tumour and demands a scan? A few years ago, a Neurologist at the National Neurological Hospital decided to scan 1,000 consecutive ‘headache’ referrals. 999 were of no concern and one scan was – but it was not a brain tumour. (PS – I know that headache can be the first or joint symptom of a brain tumour because I used to run a brain tumour support group. So headaches require careful consideration in primary care but not necessarily an immediate scan.)
    Another major issue is ‘who will ask for a scan?’ Some work on Merseyside has shown that people at higher risk of lung cancer are least likely to seek or accept a recommendation for a scan – the fatalists who don’t want to know because they smoke(d) or worked in heavy industry; those that think from historical experience of family and friends that cancer is incurable, etc.
    I wish the Cancer Task Force the best of luck.

  11. Keith Morris says:

    I am very interested in the early diagnosis programme and especially if/how new diagnostic products will be included in it where they can offer improved and earlier diagnosis. Can you provide me with details of whom I can contact about the programme, please?

  12. Sarah says:

    Hi, how many people from out side the NICE pathway will be involved? We need to start thinking outside the box. Staying safely within current constraints doesn’t challenge and create different thinking. We need to #thinkdifferently

  13. Geoff says:

    I take it you know about Valirx’s NAV3 cancer screening test. It identifies both cancerous and pre-cancerous states … and a prototype kit, apparently, is sitting in the London office!

  14. Ken West says:

    Does this “major new programme to test innovative ways of diagnosing cancer more quickly at more than 60 sites across the country” include the thousands of children and young people (from birth up the age of 24 years) that are diagnosed in the UK every year?

  15. John Miller says:




  16. jonathan mackay says:

    Yet another target within limited resources.
    Will there be a proper control group to assess success?
    What other services will be cut to fund this initiative?

  17. Mary Hawking says:

    There is already pressure on diagnostics, whether the requests come from GPs or within secondary care.
    Will the diagnostics needed if patients are to be encouraged to self-refer be new and separate, or will this new demand be competing for already limited facilities?
    Where will the funding come from, and will it be recurrent or limited to the initial phase – and expected to be found from existing CCG budgets in future?
    I agree early diagnosis – and probably new techniques – improve survival in cancer patients: but what is the evidence that changing the present system to one of self-referral – which will massively increase the demands on already very limited resources – will increase early diagnosis and early treatment once a diagnosis is made when delays in treatment already occur due to lack of facilities?