Time to revisit cancer plan, urges The King's Fund report

The national strategy for cancer services should be revised to take account of technology developments and the ageing population, according to a new report published today (24 August) by The King's Fund.

Future Trends and Challenges for Cancer Services in England, which was commissioned by Cancer Research UK, says it is now time to revisit the NHS Cancer Plan in order to provide the right care for future cancer sufferers.

Currently more than 220,000 people are diagnosed with cancer each year in England, and it causes more than 128,000 deaths. The total number of new cases of cancer is increasing by 1.4 per cent per year.

The report – which is a review of literature and policy as well as a set of interviews – points to evidence showing that demographical, technological and policy changes are having significant effects on cancer services and will lead to new ways of diagnosing and treating cancer.

The proportion of over 65s in the population will grow from 16 per cent in 2004 to 23 per cent by 2031, increasing the number of people who develop cancer in older age. New treatments, better screening and earlier diagnosis will result in more people living as cancer survivors. The Cancer Plan must evolve to reflect these facts, the report says.

The King's Fund senior fellow in health policy Dr Rebecca Rosen said: 'The impact of recent NHS reform is gathering pace and it is essential that future cancer policy anticipates the challenges and opportunities of people living longer, technological changes and policy shifts throughout the NHS.

'We hope that this report will provide food for thought for the future of cancer services. The health service is changing, and cancer services will need support to adapt to this.'

The report says there have been many successes under the current Cancer Plan including better survival rates, patient access and waiting times. But interviews conducted for the report say that there are areas where further work is needed and policy should be rethought. These include:

  • improving the knowledge base for cancer policy – more information is needed on future demand and supply of cancer services
  • addressing gaps and weaknesses in the current Cancer Plan – including balancing prevention and treatment; guidance on high-cost drugs; and reducing inequalities
  • sustaining the function of cancer networks in the new NHS policy environment
  • shifting towards community based settings – examining the extent cancer should be considered as a long-term condition and the costs and benefits of care in the community.

In June this year, Cancer Research UK launched the Cancer 2020 campaign, urging politicians responsible for the NHS in the four nations of the UK to plan now for the future challenges facing cancer services.

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said:

'This report reminds us that the 2000 NHS Cancer Plan has been massively successful in transforming cancer services in England, delivering impressive results in the areas it targeted. But it also underlines the necessity of updating the Cancer Plan to continue to improve services over the next decade.

'An ageing population, the resulting likelihood of a higher incidence of cancer, and more sophisticated and expensive treatments all mean that now is precisely the time when the NHS should be planning for the longer term. If patients are going to benefit from the advances that Cancer Research UK's work contributes to, then it is essential politicians start considering their strategies for the future now. I would strongly encourage people to consider the messages in The King's Fund report and to sign our 'Cancer 2020' petition to add their voices to our vital campaign.'

Read the report: Future Trends and Challenges for Cancer Services in England

Notes to editors: 

  1. For further information or interviews, please contact the King’s Fund media and public relations office on 020 7307 2585, 020 7307 2632 or 020 7307 2581. An ISDN line is available for interviews on 020 7637 0185.
  2. For information about Cancer Research UK’s Cancer 2020 campaign, please visit www.cancer2020.org or contact Michael Regnier in the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8309.
  3. For advance copies of the report, contact the media and public relations office. Future Trends and Challenges for Cancer Services in England: A review of literature and policy is available to download from the King’s Fund website from Thursday 24 August.
  4. The King’s Fund is an independent charitable foundation working for better health, especially in London. We carry out research, policy analysis and development activities, working on our own, in partnerships, and through funding. We are a major resource to people working in health and social care, offering leadership development programmes; seminars and workshops; publications; information and library services; and conference and meeting facilities.
  5. About Cancer Research UK: Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to beat cancer. Cancer Research UK carries out world-class research to improve understanding of the disease and find out how to prevent, diagnose and treat different kinds of cancer; ensures that its findings are used to improve the lives of all cancer patients; helps people to understand cancer, the progress that is being made and the choices each person can make; and works in partnership with others to achieve the greatest impact in the global fight against cancer.

    For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 020 7009 8820 or visit www.cancerresearchuk.org.uk