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Think-tank calls for new cancer strategy

Published on 06/09/06 at 01:48pm

Health think-tank the King's Fund has called for a fundamental re-examination in the way NHS cancer services are provided in response to the trend for more patients to be treated outside hospital.

Dr Rebecca Rosen, King's Fund senior fellow in health policy, says the current national strategy for cancer services should be overhauled to take account of changing NHS funding policy, new technology and the ageing population.

In a new report, Future trends and Challenges for Cancer Services in England, Dr Rosen warns: "The impact of recent NHS reform is gathering pace and it is essential that future cancer policy anticipates the challenges and opportunities of people living longer, technological changes and policy shifts throughout the NHS."

The report, commissioned by Cancer Research UK, says it is now time to revisit the NHS Cancer Plan published by the government in 2000 in order to provide appropriate care for future cancer sufferers.

In June, Cancer Research UK launched the Cancer 2020 campaign, urging politicians responsible for the NHS in the UK to start planning for the future challenges facing cancer services.

Following publication of the new report, the government has not ruled out the possibility of producing a new Cancer Plan.

Currently, more than 220,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in England  and the disease causes more than 128,000 deaths annually. According to the King's Fund, the total number of new cancer cases is increasing by 1.4% per year.

The report says although there have been many successes under the current Cancer Plan, including better survival rates and shorter waiting times, there is still further work and 'a policy re-think' is needed.

Its proposals include:

* Providing more information on future demand and supply of cancer services

* More guidance on the provision of high-cost drugs

* A shift towards community-based settings, looking at how cancer should be evaluated as a long-term condition, along with the costs and benefits of community care

Dr Rosen added: "We hope this report will provide food for thought for the future of cancer services. The health service is changing  and cancer services will need support to adapt to this."

Prof Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "This report reminds us that the 2000 NHS Cancer Plan has been massively successful in transforming cancer services in England, delivering impressive results in the areas it targeted."

But he added: "An ageing population, the resulting likelihood of a higher incidence of cancer - and more sophisticated and expensive treatments - all mean that now is precisely the time when the NHS should be planning for the longer term."

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