Cancer networks look set to lose their government funding and be encouraged to become social enterprises under the new cancer strategy.

The National Cancer Action Team (NCAT) and NHS Improvement are also facing uncertainty with the department of health strategy suggesting they might “best offer their support to providers and commissioners through a more flexible, social enterprise-based approach”.

The Improving Outcomes: A strategy for Cancer strategy paper published today reveals cancer networks will continue to be funded during the transition of commissioning responsibilities from PCTs to consortia.

However the report states: “Once the new commissioning arrangements are fully established it will be for consortia to determine whether to continue getting advice and support from networks or to seek such support elsewhere.”

The move to withdraw funding for the 28 networks, which provide expert advice to commissioners, has been criticised.

Ciarán Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, fears GPs would struggle to commission cancer services without the support of the networks.

He said research for Macmillan had show that only 8 per cent of GPs have a specialism or a particular interest in cancer, compared with 25 per cent for diabetes and 16 per cent for mental health.

“With such a low starting point for specialist knowledge, commissioning for cancer is likely to be very challenging for GPs and they will need as much support as possible.

“Without the expert support such as that cancer networks provide, GPs will find it impossible to do their new role,” he said.

All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer chair John Baron echoed the sentiment.

He said: “The UK’s poor record on early diagnosis has got to be put right. The intention to save 5,000 lives by bringing our cancer survival rates up to the European average is a welcome first step.

“However, some questions remain including how the expertise of cancer networks can best be retained as the NHS makes the transition to GP commissioning.”

Professor Sir Mike Richards, National Director for Cancer, said: “Cancer networks are being funded this coming year. After that it’s a decision for the NHS commissioning board and for GP consortia to see what they want do.

“It would be wrong for a government committed to liberating the NHS to tie their hands by saying you must have cancer networks. I’m quite confident that GPs will recognise they need good advice and will turn to the networks for that.”

He said NCAT and NHS Improvement would continue to have an important role to play in the new NHS architecture and the NCB, trusts and commissioning consortia could decide to buy services from them.