John Baron is MP for Basildon and Billericay, a former Shadow Health Minister, and the Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer
Earlier this month the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPGC) staged a major Parliamentary reception to celebrate the recent publication of one-year cancer survival rates. These figures, broken down to CCG level, allow us for the first time to measure the performance of the local NHS when it comes to earlier diagnosis – as late diagnosis makes for poor survival rates. The purpose of the reception was to hammer home the importance of using these new figures to ensure our CCGs raise their cancer game.
The publication of the one-year survival rates marks the culmination of a long campaign. In 2009, the APPGC produced a report which showed that the NHS stood as much chance as any health service in Europe at getting cancer patients who had survived for one year from diagnosis to the five-year point. Where the NHS fell down, however, was getting patients to the one-year point: this suggests the NHS treats patients as well as any other health service once cancer is detected, but is poor at detecting it in the first place.
The best way of improving one-year survival figures is to encourage earlier diagnosis – cancer’s ‘magic key’ – since the chances of successful treatment are greatly magnified by catching the disease in its early stages. As a consequence, the APPGC, and other members of the cancer community, successfully campaigned to get the NHS to introduce one- and five-year cancer survival indicators at a local level.
The thinking is simple. Compelling the NHS to focus on these indicators will force it to do more to encourage earlier diagnosis. By putting the survival rates up in lights, CCGs will have to introduce local initiatives tailored to the needs of their populations to detect cancer earlier – whether they be screening, diagnostics, awareness, prevention et cetera. As it will be clear which CCGs are underperforming, local politicians, cancer patients and others will be able to challenge their CCG management to rise their game – we’re all in this together.
The reception was widely attended by MPs, Peers, CCG Chief Officers, charities and other members of the cancer community. We were fortunate to be addressed by the Minister with responsibility for cancer, Jane Ellison MP, and Sean Duffy – who has himself recently passed the one-year survival mark as National Clinical Director for Cancer. Their remarks were greatly appreciated, and it was good to see the Government and the NHS marking the occasion.
At the reception, Macmillan Cancer Support, who provide invaluable service as Secretariat to the APPGC, prepared a briefing pack containing the figures for all CCGs as well as other useful information. I urge my Parliamentary Colleagues, and indeed everyone, to make maximum use of these publicly-available data. I was pleased to learn my own CCG (Basildon and Brentwood) has slightly above-average one-year survival (70 per cent against 68 per cent). I am in regular contact with my CCG’s Chief Officer, and we will continue our dialogue on behalf of patients in our area.
However, there is a potential fly in the ointment. The NHS reforms are still bedding down, and CCGs have recently been informed they will also be held accountable through a new ‘Comprehensive Delivery Dashboard’ which, unlike the existing accountability frameworks, will have ‘teeth’. The Dashboard does not currently include any health outcome measures, and so our challenge is now to persuade the Government and NHS England to incorporate survival rates into it. Our work on earlier diagnosis goes on.