Diagnosing cancer earlier and faster

The NHS Long Term Plan sets an ambition that three in four cancers will be diagnosed at an early stage (stage 1 or 2) by 2028.

For fast growing cancers, shortening the time between referral to treatment saves lives. Nationally, new models and standards of care are being implemented to ensure health services act swiftly to ensure rapid diagnosis.

Work we are doing to support this national work, includes:

Improving the uptake and coverage of cervical, bowel and breast screening

Across Dorset, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight there is wide variation in the uptake of cervical, bowel and breast cancer screening (the number of people attending screening within six months of being invited). We also have low coverage rates (the number of people screened out of the eligible population) for cervical, bowel and breast screening in Portsmouth, Southampton, Bournemouth and Poole.

In June 2019, a new bowel cancer screening test to detect more bowel cancers, earlier, was introduced across the country, including in our region. The main benefits of the Faecal Immunochemical Test (FIT) are that it is easier to use and it is more accurate than the previous test. Early indications show uptake of the test has already increased.

Locally, our work to improve screening and coverage uptake includes:

  • working with GP cancer leads to improve screening uptake, including raising awareness among patients and increasing the availability of appointments;
  • working with women to understand how we can improve access to breast screening; and
  • improving convenient access to cervical screening appointments in primary care.

Targeted Lung Health Checks

Wessex Cancer Alliance has secured national funding to introduce targeted lung health checks pilot in Southampton from April 2020, in a drive to save lives by catching the condition early.

We were one of ten Cancer Alliances in England to be chosen for this new scheme.

The targeted screening will help improve survival rates by going first to the some of the areas with the highest death rates from lung cancer. It will check those most at risk, inviting people aged 55 to 74 who smoke, or have smoked, for a lung health check and, if needed, a chest scan.

Communities Against Cancer

Our Communities Against Cancer programme helps people be aware of the signs and symptoms of cancer, and seek help at an earlier stage. Through our partner, Action Hampshire, we work with local community groups to train Cancer Champions – people who are known and trusted in their local community – who others can talk to about cancer. Learn more about Communities Against Cancer.

Primary care education and training

Wessex Cancer Alliance was an early adopter of GatewayC, an online cancer education tool for GPs, practice nurses and other primary care professionals. The tool was developed by the Greater Manchester Cancer Vanguard Programme and helps with earlier cancer diagnosis. It supports primary care professionals to increase their knowledge of symptoms and their confidence in when and when not to refer patients.

Wessex Cancer Alliance was one of the first to commission the tool. It is now being rolled out nationally.

We also have dedicated GP clinical leads for Dorset and Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, who work with Primary Care Networks to support primary care staff education.

Rapid Diagnostic Service

From March 2020 there will be one Rapid Diagnostic Service in each Cancer Alliance area in England, with further roll out of the service by 2023/24.

This will be a service for patients with non-specific symptoms that could indicate cancer, offering fast access to diagnostic tests. Not only will these services deliver better care for patients, they aim to increase diagnostic capacity and ease pressure on GPs and accident and emergency teams who might otherwise have to organise multiple referrals.

Wessex Cancer Alliance is currently working with our partners to develop the first phase of a Wessex-wide virtual Rapid Diagnostic Service. Our Rapid Diagnostic Service specification provides more detail on our plans.

Faster Diagnosis Standard

A new, national Faster Diagnosis Standard will ensure patients receive a cancer diagnosis or an ‘all clear’ message within 28 days of being referred by their GP with suspected cancer or breast symptoms, or by a national screening service because they have an abnormal screening result.

The new standard will help reduce anxiety for patients who do not currently receive a diagnosis or all clear message in a timely manner; speed up time between referral and diagnosis and reduce unwarranted variation.

Wessex Cancer Alliance is working with our provider trusts to put in place the timed pathway for colorectal, lung, prostate and oesophageal cancers. We are releasing more than £1million to support the trusts in this work.

The 28 day standard is one of a number of cancer waiting time standards in place to measure the quality of care and improve waiting times for patients.

Wessex Cancer Alliance is also developing a dashboard that will provide a monthly snapshot of how we are performing, such as the number of cancers diagnosed at stages 1 and 2. We anticipate the dashboard will be available for use by trusts and the local health and care systems by the end of March 2020.

Research and innovation

Wessex Cancer Alliance is working with our academic partners to rapidly translate research and innovation into everyday practice to support the early detection of cancer, in line with the ambitions of the Long Term Plan.