NHS England aims for an extra 5,000 people each year to survive cancer by 2019, a new report claims.
The report sets out a number of measures to achieve this target, including investment in new radiotherapy machines, support for services to diagnose cancers earlier, and personalised care for patients.
A new target for patients to be diagnosed or given the all-clear within 28 days of referral will also be in place from 2018.
This target will be assessed through the introduction of 10 specialist diagnostic centres, which aim to make a range of tests available under one roof.
The focus on cancer comes as one of several updates to NHS England’s five-year plan, which was released in 2014.
The update was welcomed by Emma Greenwood, Cancer Research UK’s director of policy, who said the focus on early diagnosis to improve patients chances of surviving cancer was important.
“Key to getting this right is ensuring we have enough staff to carry out cancer tests, and we need to see more of a focus on this over the coming months,” added Greenwood.
She said that there is there is still much to do if England is to match the best countries in the world for cancer survival.
The report also acknowledges that health services are under strain, partly due to an ageing population, and some important targets are not being met.
Around 300,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in England every year, and this number will continue to climb as people are living longer. Cancer cases are expected to hit nearly 440,000 a year by 2035.
“We also need to address the unacceptable variation in care, experience and outcomes across the country,” said Greenwood. “Cancer is still the leading cause of death in every age group – so it must remain a top priority.”
Cally Palmer, national director for cancer at NHS England, acknowledged the variation across the country and highlighted the importance of spotting more cancers early.
“We are committed to push forward with our plans to transform cancer services, making a real difference for patients across the country and creating services that will be among the very best in the world,” she said.
But the report also includes trade-offs, with some areas such as the 18 week target time for non-emergency treatments such as hip operations and minor surgery no longer being prioritised.
“We should, though, be under no illusions about how tough the going will be,” said Chris Ham, chief executive of The King’s Fund, a health thinktank. “Hospitals are now under pressure all year round and so the ambition to improve A&E performance and other key services within the current budget is extremely ambitious.”