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Cancer care: England continues to lag behind the best



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England failed to close the gap among top nations when it comes to caring for cancer despite 20 years of experience, analysts said.

A review by the Health Foundation of the government's record between 1995 and 2015 said that despite four strategies that set ambitious targets, the NHS is still lagging behind the best.

She said that if services are improved, 10,000 lives can be saved each year.

Securing the previous diagnosis was crucial, she said.

Professor Sir Mike Richards, a former emperor of the emperor who led the examination, warned his patients that it was too difficult to gain access to tests and scans.

"Although progress has been made, the goals of all these strategies have not been achieved."

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He said the number of missed life-saving opportunities is the equivalent of a "jumbo jet to people falling from the sky every two weeks".

It comes only a month after the prime minister promised to make an early diagnosis of cancer as a key priority for spending the NHS in the coming years.

Cancer waiting time "at the worst level ever"

How far behind is the NHS?

Survival rates are improving. Back in 2000, 62% of patients survived for at least a year. By 2015, this percentage has increased to 72%.

Meanwhile, the five-year survival rose from 42% to 53%.

But other countries have improved. The Health Foundation highlighted Britain's work against five other countries – Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

This was done for six key cancer – the colon, rectum, chest, lung, ovary and prostate.

For each of them, Britain remained in second place since 2000 for a five-year survival. Only breast cancer actually closes the gap with the best.

The think tank's prominent figures show 10,000 deaths can be prevented each year with a better diagnosis. It represents one of the 13 deaths from the disease.

What's the problem?

Sir Mike speaks of "tight door-keeping" in the NHS.

He said doctors were under pressure not to make too many patients, while the NHS did not have enough equipment or personnel to perform all tests and scan them ideally.

Dealing with this will require large investments, the report said.

Doctors relate almost two million patients annually to emergency tests and scans – almost four times the number they did a decade ago.

But rising references coincided with long waiting times, making the NHS now struggling to meet its goals.

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Despite the additional referral numbers, one in five cases are still diagnosed through emergency presentations in places such as unfortunate and emergency units.

Patients diagnosed through this path are less likely to survive because the cancer has been diagnosed late.

Sir Mike said the services were also undermined by the Health and Care Law in 2012, which led to regional cancer specialists being abolished as part of a wider reorganization of the health service.

He said this has caused many experienced professionals to leave the NHS.

What does the government do?

Sir Mike welcomed the government's pledge of additional funding – £ 20 billion annually by 2023 – and that cancer would be a key focus for that.

Last month, the prime minister promised a new strategy to ensure that three-quarters of the cancer is diagnosed early – currently only half.

NHS England has already piloted rapid diagnostic clinics. These are basically one-stop testing centers where patients can gain access to a wide variety of specialists and procedures often the very same day.

Sir Mike said these steps will help.

He also urged even more to be done to raise public awareness of the signs and symptoms to look out for – research shows that people in the UK sometimes want to get out when they show signs of cancer.

And he said the NHS should look at new approaches, pointing to research that shows that people at high risk of lung cancer could benefit from a new form of screening for this disease by using low-dose CT shots.

The Department of Health and Social Care said improvement of the early diagnosis was a "key priority", suggesting that a new 28-day diagnostic target will be opened next year.

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