NHS and Cancer Care (MacMillan Nurses)

Thank you for contacting me about MacMillan Cancer Support's proposals for the NHS.

I believe fully in the NHS and its values as does the Government which is committed to protecting the NHS and that is why NHS spending has increased. Ministers have guaranteed that the NHS will always provide treatment free at the point of need, regardless of ability to pay. This is why the Government recently announced an additional £20 billion investment in the NHS by 2023/24. This will significantly support its efforts to improve cancer services.

I can assure you that making progress in the whole field of cancer research, prevention and treatment is a major priority for the Government. I am encouraged that UK cancer survival rates have never been higher, but of course, there is more still to be done.

The Government is working with the NHS, charities and patient groups to deliver the cancer strategy developed by the independent Cancer Taskforce. It has committed to ensuring that by 2020, everyone urgently referred with a suspicion of cancer will receive either a definitive diagnosis or the all-clear within four weeks. The Government is supporting this by investing up to £300 million a year by 2020 to increase diagnostic capacity. NHS England has also announced a £130 million fund to modernise radiotherapy across England. Furthermore, the Government invested over £1.2 billion in the Cancer Drugs Fund.

Early diagnosis of cancer is key and that is why the Government has run a series of Be Clear on Cancer campaigns in order to raise public awareness of the symptoms of cancer. NHS England has launched a major early diagnosis programme, Accelerate, Co-ordinate, Evaluate (ACE), working jointly with Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support to test new innovative approaches to identifying cancer more quickly. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has published an updated guideline ‘Suspected cancer: recognition and referral’. The guideline focuses on key symptoms so that it is easier to use and will continue to support GPs in identifying patients with symptoms of suspected cancer, and urgently refer them as appropriate. The guideline recommends a lower referral threshold for urgent referrals where cancer is suspected. NHS England is investing extra funds in improving early diagnosis and has set up Cancer Alliances to bring together leadership across local areas to drive improvements.

I am pleased to note that the Government is working closely with experts in this field to fulfil its ambition of achieving world-class cancer outcomes. Health Education England is developing a cancer workforce strategy, in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support, among others, to ensure that all cancer patients receive access to specialist nursing staff throughout the course of their treatment and recovery. This workforce plan includes a significant increase in the diagnostic workforce, such as the recruitment of radiologists and endoscopists, who will be instrumental in ensuring the NHS meets its ambitions to offer timely and accurate diagnoses to suspected cancer patients.

In September 2015, the Government announced that by 2020, the 280,000 people diagnosed with cancer every year will benefit from a tailored recovery package. The packages will be individually designed to help each person live well beyond cancer.

In April 2016, we published guidance for commissioners on commissioning and implementing the recovery package effectively. The independent Cancer Taskforce has made considerable recommendations for the future shape and skills of the workforce required to deliver a modern, holistic, and patient-centred cancer service. The Government is following these recommendations, and working closely with partners such as Macmillan Cancer Support, to improve cancer patients’ access to clinical nurse specialists, and develop a new approach to data collection in order to introduce a Quality of Life metric, to understand and improve the long-term quality of life for patients being treated for any type of cancer.

The National Institute for Health Research spending on cancer research rose from £101 million in 2010/11 to £135 million in 2014/15. The Government continues to add fresh resources to research, for example, £40 million for brain cancer research and £75 million for research into the early diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. The Government and Cancer Research UK are jointly funding a network of 18 experimental cancer medicine centres aimed at driving the development and testing of new anti-cancer treatments.

The £1.2 billion Cancer Drugs Fund (CDF) has helped over 95,000 people to access the life-extending drugs they need. NHS England and NICE consulted on draft proposals for the future direction of the Fund. The consultation outlined a new system, fully integrated into the NICE appraisal process, where the CDF becomes a transitional fund, with clear criteria for entry and exit. This will provide a more structured and timely approach to the appraisal of all cancer drugs and these new arrangements came into effect from 1 July 2016.

Under the new process, any drugs that receive either a draft recommendation for routine commissioning or, where uncertainty exists, a recommendation for use within the CDF, will receive interim funding from the CDF from the point of marketing authorisation. This earlier access to cancer drugs will benefit both patients and the pharmaceutical industry.

I hope you are reassured by this outline of what the Government is doing so far in conjunction with the NHS, medical professionals and many agencies involved in this field. I hope you will continue to let me know of your own experiences of cancer services and your ideas for further progress.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact me.

Craig Whittaker MP