There could be as many as half a million new cancer cases in the UK each year by 2040 unless the government tackles the crisis in NHS cancer services, a leading cancer charity has warned.
With a General Election likely next year, Cancer Research UK has set out a ‘manifesto’ for cancer research and care that, it has argued, could dramatically improve cancer outcomes and prevent 20,000 cancer deaths a year by 2040.
However, without action, the progress in cancer survival rates we’ve seen in the past 50 years – with survival rates doubling – could be at risk, it has also warned.
The manifesto has called for whichever party wins the next election to commit to developing a 10-year cancer plan. Urgent action is also required to address the more than £1bn funding gap for research into cancer over the next decade, it has argued.
The document has set out five ‘missions’ for the next government to embrace to dramatically improve cancer outcomes. These are:
- Rebuild the UK’s global position in biomedical research. This should include setting out an ambition in its first 100 days to lead the G7 in research intensity, increase government investment and make the UK an attractive destination for scientists and clinicians worldwide.
- Prevent thousands more cancer cases. The UK government, Cancer Research UK has argued, has a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to tackle smoking. It should urgently progress laws to increase the age of sale of tobacco products, which could prevent 18,200 cancer cases by 2040.
- Diagnose cancers earlier and reduce inequalities. Almost half of cancers in England are diagnosed at a late stage, and around one in five cancer patients are diagnosed via emergency routes, the charity has highlighted. The government as a result should implement measures to reduce late-stage diagnosis in England, including accelerating the roll-out of its lung cancer screening programme in England and addressing the current postcode lottery in treatment
- Bring tests, treatments and innovations to patients more quickly. This, the charity has argued, needs to include long-term funding for staff, essential kit and facilities. The government, it added, should set out a 10-year cancer-specific workforce plan to address the chronic staff shortages in cancer services.
- Build a national movement to beat cancer, together. The current system, Cancer Research UK has argued, is too fragmented with, in England, responsibility for cancer research and care spread across NHS England, at least five government departments and multiple agencies. A new National Cancer Council for England, accountable to the prime minister, should be set up, it has said.
“Cancer is the defining health issue of our time,” said Cancer Research UK chief executive Michelle Mitchell. “Avoiding thousands of cancer deaths is possible, but it will take leadership, political will, investment and reform.
Cancer and health
“The Manifesto for Cancer Research and Care is our comprehensive plan to ensure more people can live their lives free from the fear of cancer. We urge all political leaders to unite behind this vital mission,” she added.
Separately, research has argued that better continuity of care within primary care could reduce the risk of delays in diagnosing serious health conditions, such as cancer, and ease workload and welfare pressures on GPs.
The report by the Health Services Safety Investigations Body (HSSIB) has called for continuity of care to be made “an essential requirement” for GP practices.
This needed to include better, and more joined-up, IT systems, better patient case management, and a greater emphasis on GP health and welfare.
On this latter point, the HSSIB highlighted that GPs too often did not have time to process technically difficult consultations, resulting in cognitive fatigue.
They reported often feeling unable to do all the tasks required during a consultation, and frequently taking work home or having it spill into days off or weekends.
The body has recommended the Department of Health and Social Care ensures the GP contract “explicitly” includes and supports the need for GP practices to deliver continuity of care, including better clinician-patient relationships.
“HSSIB recommends NHS England updates the GP IT standards to ensure patient continuity of care is maintained, including the identification and prioritisation (technically known as ‘clear surfacing’) of information to health and care professionals, when patients visit GP practices multiple times with unresolving symptoms,” it added.