A multiyear budgeting approach is needed to achieve transformation in cancer care and to make long-term savings, notes Emma Greenwood
By 2035, more than 437,000 people in England are expected to be diagnosed with cancer every year. That’s an annual increase of nearly 140,000 people on 2015 levels. In a health service that is already struggling to cope with demand, a long-term plan for the NHS represents an excellent opportunity to reset our aspirations for cancer care in England. And we should be ambitious.
In his recent interview, Jeremy Hunt emphasised the need to prepare for having a million more people aged over 75 in 10 years’ time. Cancer is primarily a disease of ageing, so unless we achieve real change, there is little chance that our health service will be able to cope with this increased demand in the future.
While cancer survival has been improving, outcomes in the UK remain poorer than in the best performing countries
So, a new approach is needed. While cancer survival has been improving, outcomes in the UK remain poorer than in the best performing countries. We estimate that we need to at least double the pace of improvement in five-year survival if we are to be among the best in 10 years. Change is essential to accelerate progress and save more lives.
We’ve already seen that having a plan for cancer can bear fruit. Cancer strategies galvanise action and the current plan for England has established cancer alliances, seen the creation of the first ever cancer workforce plan, and resulted in more than £130m investment in radiotherapy kit.
Properly focused extra investment now will result in a more efficient service long term
But these strategies operate within the wider NHS, and have a finite life span. To improve services for patients and make the NHS more sustainable in the long-term, Cancer Research UK is calling for the new long-term plan for the NHS to prioritise the following:
- A health system oriented around prevention and early diagnosis: Around four in 10 cancers are preventable through lifestyle changes and patients’ chances of survival usually improve hugely if they are diagnosed when cancer is still at an early stage. Preventing more cancers and diagnosing them earlier is more efficient and saves more lives. But this would mean developing new models of diagnosis that allow patients to access the health system quicker.
- Becoming a world-leading innovator: It’s essential that the NHS should be able to adopt the latest evidence-based technologies, such as new types of diagnostic tests, to enable new ways of working with different priorities.
To achieve this, the new plan must ensure that the NHS has enough staff, as shortages will continue to inhibit the NHS’ ability to provide world-class cancer care. We need Health Education England’s forthcoming long-term workforce plan for cancer to be fully funded.
Growing demand and personalisation of care will mean that the NHS needs additional investment simply to care for more people. Properly focused extra investment now will result in a more efficient service long term. For example, it’s a lot less expensive to treat cancer in its early rather than later stages so investment in diagnostics and workforce will pay dividends in the future.
It’s a lot less expensive to treat cancer in its early rather than later stages so investment in diagnostics and workforce will pay dividends in the future
A comprehensive funding settlement needs to include the research, health education, public health and social care that’s just as vital as money spent in hospitals. And we must shift to a genuine multiyear budgeting approach to make long-term savings if we are to achieve the transformation that is needed.
Cancer Research UK agrees with Jeremy Hunt that this could be a transformative moment in the history of the NHS – as long as both the health service and the government have enough ambition. It’s vital this new plan delivers the radical change the NHS, and its patients, really need.