Monday 10th September 2012
Macmillan Senior Policy Analyst Jennifer Mitchell discusses the coalition government's new cancer strategy.
Improving survival rates for cancer was one of the Conservative party’s key election pledges. It’s hardly surprising then, that within the first nine months of power, the government published a new strategy for cancer – Improving Outcomes: A Strategy for Cancer
– replacing the Labour party’s Cancer Reform Strategy
The new strategy aims to improve UK cancer survival rates so they are comparable with the best in Europe. The government promises to improve prevention and early diagnosis, and increase access to new drugs for cancer to achieve this.
Of note is the Cancer Drugs Fund for which Macmillan lobbied. This extra money (£200 million for the next three years in England only), should make it easier for doctors to prescribe treatments, even if they are yet to be approved by or have been rejected by the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE).
‘People with cancer should be diagnosed earlier, supported to cope with their diagnosis, and helped to get their lives back on track’
Cancer in the new system
Crucially, the strategy sets out how cancer care and services will be delivered and improved under the new system following the government’s major health reforms.
Gone is target-setting and ‘political interference’ in the NHS, making the strategy far less directing than previous ones. Instead, it hopes to influence the new GP consortia as they plan cancer services for the future.
Under the new system, commissioners are required to commission for outcomes and not targets. The strategy acknowledges that this requires the collection of data on the outcomes of service providers, as well as more data on incidence, prevalence and expenditure. The government, as part of its information revolution, wants to make such data available to the public to aid greater patient choice in both treatment and where care is given.
The survivorship agenda
With a growing number of cancer survivors, the strategy acknowledges that more could be done to improve quality of life after cancer and calls for specific improvements in outcomes.
This includes reducing the number of people who report unmet needs and increasing the number of survivors who return to work. It commends and supports the work of the National Cancer Survivorship Initiative and specifically states that ‘care [for survivors] needs to be personalised and coordinated so that it is tailored to individuals’ needs’.
So what does this new strategy mean for patients and clinicians alike? At this stage, it’s probably too early to tell. The wider health reforms coupled with the task of finding huge financial savings mean all parties are finding it difficult to predict what the new NHS landscape will look like. Certainly, the intentions of the strategy match Macmillan’s ambitions for cancer care. If fulfilled, people with cancer should be diagnosed earlier, supported to cope with their diagnosis, and helped to get their lives back on track.
But with the government’s ability to directly intervene with day-to-day care weakened, and the challenges GPs will face when commissioning for the complexities of cancer, Macmillan will be watching events unfold closely.
Email Jennifer Mitchell.
We have more information about the cancer strategy.
In the Autumn 2011 edition of Mac Voice, we look at the election results in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and the impact they may have on cancer care.