Cancer survival will go from ‘bad to worse’ unless the Government reverses its decision to scrap a long-term plan dedicated to fighting the disease, leading doctors have warned.
Thousands of lives have been put at risk by merging the existing ten-year scheme into a multi-disease strategy, they say.
In a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, the oncologists have warned that cancer was ‘too complex and too costly’ to treat without a dedicated national plan.
They argue there is ‘no clinical basis’ behind the decision and suggest that, without a specific focus, ‘cancer services will be lost in the wilderness for a decade’.
Last spring, then-health secretary Sajid Javid promised a ‘war on cancer’ in a bid to recover services badly hit by the pandemic.
In a letter to Health Secretary Steve Barclay, the oncologists have warned that cancer was ‘too complex and too costly’ to treat without a dedicated national plan
But Mr Barclay recently announced that the dedicated cancer plan, as well as strategies for mental health and dementia, would be axed in favour of a ‘major conditions strategy’.
It will leave England as one of only a handful of countries, including North Korea and Afghanistan, without a dedicated national standalone cancer plan.
Wales and Northern Ireland have their own strategies, and Scotland is due to publish its strategy shortly.
The letter, whose signatories include Professor Karol Sikora, a consultant oncologist and former cancer adviser to the World Health Organisation, notes the already poor cancer survival rates.
It states: ‘If there was one area of healthcare deserving of a dedicated plan it must surely be cancer.
‘We already have among the worst cancer survival rates in Western Europe. The loss of a dedicated cancer plan will push our cancer outcomes from bad to worse.
‘Without a proper road map for improving cancer mortality and survival, our cancer services will be lost in the wilderness for a decade.’
It comes as new figures show cancer diagnoses are set to jump by a third by 2040, taking the number of new cases every year to more than half a million.
Cancer Research UK warned that the NHS ‘risks being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of new cancer diagnoses’ unless more is done to tackle preventable causes such as obesity and train more staff.
Chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: ‘A ten-year cancer plan that will prepare cancer services for the future, give people affected by cancer the care they deserve and the resources – people and equipment – the NHS needs, is essential.’
The Department of Health said: ‘Cutting NHS waiting times is one of the Prime Minister’s key priorities and more patients are being seen and treated for cancer than ever before.
We are determined to deliver the best possible outcomes for patients and we recently announced our major conditions strategy covering six different conditions, including cancer.’