The cancer survival rates gap between England and the best-performing European countries remains as wide as ever despite the last government launching its NHS Cancer Plan 10 years ago, a parliamentary report said.
The report revealed that the Department of Health estimated 10,000 lives could be saved each year if the NHS was as good as the best in Europe, with better public and GP awareness of symptoms and earlier diagnosis being the key priorities for improvement.
Former prime minister Tony Blair and his health secretary Alan Milburn launched the Cancer Plan in 2000 and Labour's Cancer Reform Strategy was launched nearly five years ago.
But the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has now revealed there were 'significant gaps' in the information gathered by the NHS about important aspects of cancer services. While mortality rates have fallen and survival rates improved over the past decade, there remained 'wide, unexplained variations' in performance around England, said the report.
Tony Blair and Alan Milburn's plan came with a promise to deliver "the fastest improving cancer services in Europe" with extra doctors and equipment, shorter waiting times and more government cash for research. The 2007 Reform Strategy aimed to refocus the effort through prevention, early diagnosis and access to cost-effective treatments.
NHS spending on cancer rose to £6.3 billion a year by 2008/09, and the PAC report said there had been "significant progress in delivering important aspects of cancer services, including consistent achievement of the cancer waiting times targets".
Since 2007, 'improvements have also been made in reducing the average length of stay and numbers of patients treated as day cases'.
The cross-party report welcomed a 'significant increase in resources' committed to cancer and the 'clear direction and high-profile leadership' offered but added: "We are concerned ... that early diagnosis does not happen often enough; whilst cancer survival rates have improved and mortality rates have fallen, the gap in survival rates between England and the best European countries has not been closed."
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