The government has announced its commitment to cancer services in the NHS Long Term Plan.
Today the Prime Minister, Theresa May, and the Chief Executive of the NHS, Simon Stevens, published a Long Term Plan for the NHS in England. This sets the ambition and priorities for the health service over the next ten years. This has been matched with an increase of up to £20.5 billion for the NHS by 2023/24.
Cancer is a priority within the Plan, and so it includes specific ways the government will tackle cancer to make a big difference in cancer survival.
What does the plan mean for breast cancer patients?
We launched #55000Reasons: Why the NHS must invest in breast cancer services (PDF) at the end of September which set out our ten priorities for the Long Term Plan. We handed our book of reasons from supporters to Health Secretary Matt Hancock in November.
We are pleased that the Government and NHS England have listened to breast cancer patients’ reasons for investment in breast cancer and have made commitments that could make a huge difference to the diagnosis, treatment, care and outcomes for breast cancer patients.
The NHS Long Term Plan includes commitments to:
- Review the breast screening service to look at how to increase screening uptake and introduce new technologies
- The use of personalised and risk stratified screening for the earlier diagnosis of cancers
- Access to the right expertise and support, for all patients, including those with secondary cancers, including a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or other support worker
- Potentially offer patients more personalised treatment options.
These are steps we asked for through the #55000Reasons campaign and it’s fantastic to see that the government has listened to what Breast Cancer Now thinks should be done. We’re very proud of this achievement.
Next steps – the devil is in the detail
The work doesn’t stop here. We need to make sure that the government delivers on their promises and that priorities for breast cancer patients are followed through in the Plan’s implementation. We want to make sure that patient experience is at the heart of this.
Cancer Alliances, responsible for the local delivery of national policies in England, will play a huge role in this. We will be working with them to shape the details of how they will deliver on these positive commitments for breast cancer patients.
There are three key areas where we want to see continued commitment from Government:
1. Breast imaging and diagnostic workforce
While the Plan recognises the importance of the workforce to deliver its commitments, funding for workforce training and education sits outside the remit of the Long Term Plan. We urgently need to see a fully funded Cancer Workforce Plan to increase numbers of staff to address the current workforce crisis and harness the ambition set out in the Plan.
2. Access to CNS for patients with secondary breast cancer
We are delighted that the NHS Long Term Plan recognises the need to make sure that patients living with secondary cancers benefit from the right expertise and support, including access to a Clinical Nurse Specialist.
We know that those living with secondary breast cancer often do not have access to a CNS, despite this being the single most important factor for a positive patient experience. Only 34% of organisations in England have one or more dedicated CNS to secondary breast cancer. We will work with NHS England and Cancer Alliances to follow through on this ambition to improve access to a dedicated CNS for patients with secondary breast cancer.
3. Access to breast cancer treatments
There is a huge amount of world class research conducted into breast cancer treatments – and the NHS Long Term Plan has the ambition to harness this better so that patients will be offered more personalised treatment options. However, we know there are issues with patients’ ability to access treatments.
A new agreement on the pricing of branded medicines between the Government and the pharmaceutical industry commits the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) to scoping and, where appropriate, initiating a review of its methods of appraising drugs.
To deliver the ambition set out in the NHS Long Term Plan of offering more personalised treatment options, this review must look at the issue of ‘combination’ treatments – where more than one drug is given at a time. The current difficulties with these ‘combination’ treatments being approved for use on the NHS mean many patients are currently missing out on receiving them.
We’re really encouraged by the Government’s commitments today. Thank you so much to everyone who shared their reason as part of the #55000Reasons campaign, it’s had a huge impact and these commitments form a solid foundation to improve breast cancer services for the future.
If you want to get more involved in our campaigning, please join our Breast Cancer Now Action Network on Facebook.