Laura Fulcher on the need for more finances to meet the 62 day cancer diagnosis targets
We all know that early diagnosis is the mantra of successful cancer treatment. Our sluggish UK diagnosis waits result in many thousands of deaths every single year.
And so, ever since the Britain Against Cancer conference, my worry over the direction of the five year strategy has deepened.
At the conference we heard from Jeremy Hunt. He told a room full of “cancer patients” like myself, NHS England managers, clinicians, and charity workers that he was refusing to release long promised funds to improve early cancer diagnosis. Instead, he’s going to store the cash until Cancer Alliances begin to meet 62 day cancer diagnosis targets.
This Catch 22 is inescapable. How will our hospitals meet the 62 day wait target, a target we’ve failed to meet annually for the last three years, without more money or a transformation of service?
Using the £200 million cancer transformation fund promised to Cancer Alliances as a carrot to induce hospitals, trusts, clinical commissioning groups, and the rest to meet the 62 day cancer target, is plain madness. After all, Alliances were never formed with this target in mind. Rather, they aim to improve joined up working in a geographical region, bringing together leaders to scrutinise the full cancer pathway, not just the one bottleneck that the 62 day wait targets.
Using the £200 million cancer transformation fund promised to Cancer Alliances as a carrot to induce hospitals, trusts, clinical commissioning groups, and the rest to meet the 62 day cancer target, is plain madness
Besides, the 62 day focus is antiquated and of no value to many unfortunate enough to be diagnosed late. The small print of the target demands that only those patients referred into secondary services as having a “suspected cancer” are to be treated within two months. Meanwhile, the rest of us, likely younger patients like myself, are left languishing for months and years. We never breach cancer targets – there are no targets for us – and so we are forgotten.
So too does the 62 day wait target disregard any delay before a GP refers you in to hospital. In my case, this took nine appointments and nearly a year – something that the Alliances, with their cross pathway scrutiny hope to address.
In fact, the complexities of the constitutional cancer targets mean many, even those in leadership roles, fail to grasp what they really entail, and so seem to give up on them. This plays out in treatment, patient empowerment, and complaint-handling. In my case, I received a letter from a trust stating that my treatment had been perfectly timely and hadn’t breached targets. I found myself having to explain the 18-week target to people who had worked in the NHS for decades.
Around 10,000 lives will likely be lost annually without the consequent improvements that this money brings
What’s worse, in the face of all this, no organisation seems brave enough to challenge the Department of Health.
From the large charities, those purporting to champion those with cancer, there seems to be silence. The very organisations who should be hollering the loudest are not speaking up. They are not stating the worst case scenario: by refusing to release the much needed cancer money, Hunt condemns to death the population of a small town every single year. Around 10,000 lives will likely be lost annually without the consequent improvements that this money brings.
In the press, we read of Hunt patting himself on the back for the 6,500 more people alive today due to advances in cancer treatment. What he doesn’t state is that these lives are saved due to western wide improvements and have nothing to do with his strategy.
The only few in leadership who have the power to confront Hunt are the forthright team of All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer parliamentarians, proudly embodying the true jingoist spirit of a “Britain Against Cancer”. In their report, the team led by John Baron, MP, pleads for the 62 day wait to be de-coupled from the release of cancer funds. Their view is bleak: without this money soon, the five year cancer strategy will likely fail.
They detail dreadful stories of cancer transformation grinding to a halt. Take the Surrey and Sussex Cancer Alliance who find their “entire governance programme… ambition and even the ability to pay the clinical co-chairs… has not happened for many months.”
Release the cash, Mr Hunt. Do it for any one of the 10,000 lives you could choose to save.