Alongside my role as Cancer Research UK’s chief executive, I am honoured to have been invited to be the independent chair of a Task Force to plot how the country can best tackle the challenges that cancer will bring over the next five years.

Although announced by NHS England, it is important to recognise that the strategy covers the entire health system and will involve, and be owned by, all of its key players.

We will work together to find new ways of improving cancer services, identifying what needs to be done better in future by studying the kind of care patients get today.

And this summer we will publish a five-year plan that aims to deliver:

  • Better prevention
  • Swifter diagnosis
  • Better treatment, care and aftercare for all cancer patients

This is a tremendously exciting project, and the Task Force will include, among others, cancer clinicians, members of the Royal Colleges of GPs and Surgeons, charity leaders – including Cancer 52 and Macmillan Cancer Support – Public Health England and the NHS.

More than one in three people in the UK develop cancer and half will now live for at least 10 years – 40 years ago median survival was just one year.

But survival for most types of cancer remains below the European average and well below the best in Europe and other countries of comparable income.

Too many people are diagnosed at a late stage – one in four as a result of an emergency presentation – so there is a huge opportunity to do better. The NHS is aiming to increase early stage diagnosis by just 10 per cent over the next five years – equivalent to about 8,000 more patients living longer than five years after diagnosis.

We need to chart a path to achieving this.

But we are not waiting on publishing the strategy to get on with our work. Also announced at the same time as the Task Force, is the “ACE Programme”, which Cancer Research UK is leading jointly with NHS England and Macmillan. This programme has identified more than 60 potential projects to address late diagnosis. The projects will be led locally by NHS teams and include:

  • Giving GPs direct access to diagnostic tests
  • Working with people at high risk of cancer to help spot the disease early
  • Creating bespoke clinics where unexplained symptoms can get a quick diagnosis
  • Improving multi-disciplinary diagnostic centres
  • Boosting the role of pharmacists who keep track of regular prescriptions and may be able to refer patients for tests
  • Allowing GPs to overrule NICE criteria at their discretion
  • Enabling patients to book their own appointments for a diagnostic test.

Cancer Research UK operates across the UK, so although this is a plan being developed for England, many of the principles should apply across all four nations and we hope it will support similar work throughout the country.

Chiefly because of the UK’s ageing population, we know that many more people will be diagnosed with cancer in the years ahead. Cancer Research UK is projecting an increase of a third in the number of cases over the next 15 years. So the time is right to set new ambitions and to take a fresh look at how we will meet this need.

I believe this is the first time that something like this has been led from outside the NHS or Department of Health. It is a huge responsibility, but one that is central to our priorities as an organisation, as well as the many other organisations involved.

I am in the process of pulling together an excellent group of people to drive this work and provide the expertise necessary.

My aim is to publish a strategy that is both exciting and ambitious, but equally is deliverable and is owned by the people and organisations who will be charged with implementing it. I am honoured to have been asked to lead this work.