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You’ve probably noticed the General Election – perhaps one of the most tightly fought for a generation.

And according to the polls, health is (rightly, in our view) voters’ number one concern. With the NHS under increasing pressure, we need political action to beat cancer sooner.

In the run up to the election, the health service has featured heavily in some of the public debates and in the media, again reinforcing how much people care about how politicians prioritise health.

This week, the big election news was that the parties published their manifestos, outlining what they would do if in Government.

But which of their policies could have the greatest impact on cancer and research? We’ve combed through all the main parties’ manifestos to find out.

Improving cancer survival

In the past 40 years, cancer survival has doubled, so that two in four people will now survive cancer for at least 10 years. But the UK still lags behind comparable countries in Europe, which is why we’ve been campaigning for political action to help address this.

The good news is that all the parties recognise this, and have explicitly said they want things to improve. Both Labour and the Greens pledged to get our cancer outcomes up to the best in Europe; the Liberal Democrats intend to set ambitious targets for improving cancer survival; and the Conservatives pledged to make the UK a ‘world leader’ in fighting cancer.

Investing in the NHS

NHS funding is always a hot topic, but particularly so before an election. Last October, Simon Stevens, CEO of NHS England, set out his vision for how the NHS will tackle challenges, calling for increased funding for the NHS of £8bn a year by the end of the next Parliament. This ‘Five Year Forward View’ has effectively set the tone for a lot of the discussion about the NHS in the run up to the election.

Both the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have committed to finding the full £8bn Stevens has asked for. The Conservatives say they’ll find the money through their plans for a strong economy, and the Liberal Democrats by increasing spending in line with economic recovery and through the introduction of a levy on tobacco companies to pay for healthcare and stop smoking services.

Labour will also increase spending for the NHS, paid for through a tax on properties worth more than £2m (their so-called ‘mansion tax’), and a one-off charge, or ‘levy’, on tobacco companies.

The Greens and UKIP have each committed to raise spending to £12bn by the end of the next Parliament. The Greens would fund this through increased alcohol and tobacco taxes, while UKIP through savings made by leaving the European Union.

Preventing cancer

We know that four in ten cancers can be prevented through lifestyle choices. So we were particularly pleased to see prevention featuring heavily in the manifestos.

Labour’s dedicated health manifesto pledged to provide better public information about healthy living, put physical activity at the heart of public health policy, crack down on high-strength, low-cost alcohol, and ensure that children born in 2015 will be the first ‘smoke-free generation’.

The Conservatives, among others, recognise the huge impact that standardised packaging of tobacco products will have on future generations. They’ve also endorsed measures to further protect children by tacking childhood obesity and improving lifestyle choices through clear food labelling.

The Liberal Democrats have made prevention one of their key health messages too. They want to restrict marketing of junk food to children, continue to reduce smoking rates, introduce minimum unit pricing on alcohol (a policy also supported by the Greens) and promote physical activity.

Diagnosing cancer earlier

The earlier a cancer is diagnosed, the more likely it will be treated successfully. Nearly a quarter of all cancers are diagnosed at emergency stage, and we’ve been calling on all parties to support measures to improve public awareness of signs and symptoms of cancer, as well as to increase uptake in bowel screening and improve access to diagnostic tests.

Labour has set an ambitious goal that by 2020, patients will no longer wait more than a week for diagnostic tests. They have also pledged to roll out Bowel Scope across the country and to ask the National Screening Committee to review the possibility of lung and ovarian cancer screening.

Cancer awareness programmes such as England’s Be Clear on Cancer, and evidence-based screening programmes were endorsed by the Liberal Democrats, while the Conservatives would continue to support research into early diagnosis and improvements in the health system so that cancer is diagnosed as early as possible.

All parties made commitments to improve access to GP appointments.

Treating cancer more successfully

We’re calling on all parties to make sure that all people are offered the most suitable treatments for them. And we see three key areas: ensuring a sustainable solution for funding cancer drugs, improving access to innovative radiotherapy for all and surgery for older patients.

The Conservatives will continue investment in the Cancer Drugs Fund and will implement the recommendations of the Cancer Taskforce, chaired by our Chief Executive, Harpal Kumar. They will support research into rarer cancers, the 100,000 genome project and improve access to medicines – the latter through implementing the findings of the Innovative Medicines and Medical Technology Review.

Labour has also committed to producing a new cancer strategy within six months of being in Government, and will create a new Cancer Treatment Fund to improve access to cancer drugs, as well as radiotherapy and surgery. This strategy will also look at how to tackle ageism in cancer treatment.

The Liberal Democrats will ensure that the NHS is adequately funded to ensure all patients are offered the best possible treatments.

Through supporting research

In order to maintain the UK’s leading position in cancer research, we need continued Government investment to ensure research has the funding it needs while maintaining the UK’s research infrastructure.

To do this, we’re calling on all parties to continue to protect the amount of money spent on science. The Liberal Democrats have promised to do this in their manifesto.

The economic benefit of research was recognised in the Conservative manifesto with pledges to support life sciences and innovative research as a key means of improving cancer outcomes while also supporting economic recovery.

Labour will seek to address how research and clinical trials are organised and governed in the NHS by supporting the work of the Health Research Authority and ensuring that improvements in the Clinical Trials Regulation are realised.

UKIP have said they will waive tuition fees for students taking a degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) subjects.

Our verdict

We’re pleased to see the parties recognise the challenges facing cancer services and the NHS more widely. They’ve made some ambitious promises – substantially increasing funding for the NHS, reducing waiting times for diagnostic tests, continued investment in cancer treatments and protecting the science spend to name a few.

But the devil is always in the detail, and this is perhaps the most uncertain General Election in modern times. Whether the new Government is a majority, minority or coalition will substantially have an impact on the nature of the policies adopted post May – many manifesto commitments might not make it into a final Coalition Agreement. So we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, we’ll be continuing to ask all candidates to support our Cross Cancer Out campaign, and we’ll be working to keep cancer at the top of the political agenda after the election.

You can help us by emailing your election candidates here

Harriet Adams is a public affairs officer at Cancer Research UK

  • To find out what the parties from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are saying about cancer and research – read our analysis here