Government decision to scrap dedicated cancer strategy ‘will cost lives’

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The Government’s move to scrap a dedicated cancer strategy is “a catastrophic decision that will cost lives”, experts have warned.

Last month, the Government announced it would create a single strategy in England to tackle major illnesses such as cancer, mental health and dementia.

The move was criticised by leading charities, with Macmillan saying the 10-year cancer plan promised by ministers had “been discarded”, while the CatchUpWithCancer campaign said it was “deeply concerned”.

Now, experts writing in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) have also expressed dismay at the move, arguing a dedicated cancer plan is needed now more than ever.

They added: “Subsuming cancer into an overall non-communicable disease agenda simply signals that cancer is no longer a political priority or reflects a Government not willing to deal with its complexity and escalating costs.”

The pair pointed to a National Audit Office (NAO) study showing that fewer than half of NHS trusts expect to meet key end-of-year recovery and cancer targets, “with 2025 targets for diagnostic capacity, funding and productivity in serious doubt”.

They added: “Cancer is the single largest cause of death in the UK and one of the most serious healthcare burdens for societies.

“Delivering effective and equitable care requires the co-ordination of an extensive array of interlocking cancer specific pathways…

“The English NHS, for example, has 60 radiation therapy centres, 50 prostate cancer surgery centres, 163 bowel cancer centres, and 176 chemotherapy units, not including the specialised diagnostics that are only available at selected hospitals.

“The strategic direction and co-ordination of all these services requires both a cancer specific plan and an array of operational tools to deal with issues of centralisation and variation in practice to avoid inequalities in access and outcomes.”

The experts said a long-term plan for cancer “is more critical than ever” after more than a “decade of declining funding for cancer services compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic”.

They added: “Such a plan needs to deal with the post-pandemic realities of backlogs for care: sicker patients with more advanced cancers and huge deficits in the cancer specific workforce.”

The pair said that, without a dedicated long-term plan for cancer, services “will fracture, costs will increase, inequalities widen, and patients will experience even greater delays leading directly to lost lives”.

The Department of Health and Social Care has been approached for comment.

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