As the NHS continues its fight against the deadly killer cancer, the health service intends to introduce a new target related to the condition.
MPs have set this deadline at four weeks from GP referral.
The NHS will implement this new cancer target with the intention of ensuring that patients are provided with a definitive diagnosis or the all-clear more rapidly.
According to the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, the NHS has a fundamental duty to ensure that the period of uncertainty for potential cancer sufferers is as short as possible.
Hunt set a success rate for the new policy of 95 per cent, with the intention of ensuring that the new referral system between GPs and cancer referrals is significantly improved.
The new targets are the result of a joint NHS England and Cancer Research UK task force, witch recommended the measures to be implemented across the UK.
Research conducted by the task force earlier this year purports to provide evidence on how the NHS can speed up cancer diagnosis in the future.
By implementing the recommendations of the task force it is suggested that the chances are successful treatment will be significantly improved, which could have a knock-on effect of saving thousands of lives annually.
Figures estimated by the department indicate that the new approach to cancer diagnoses could save as many as 11,000 lives a year.
The government has set a target of five years for the successful actualisation of the policy. Although there is some scepticism about the logistical feasibility of this scheme, the Department of Health has attempted to address with strong fiscal measures.
In response to critics, the Department of Health has already stated that funding related to cancer diagnosis would be allocated from the £8 billion annual increase promised to the NHS in the remaining years of this decade.
A key aspect of the Department of Health vision is the training of 200 extra staff. These newly tooled-up employees will then be employed in the operation of endoscopies.
This central pillar of the cancer policy is a response to recent assertions made by Cancer Research UK.
The charity highlighted a shortage of endoscopy staff, with other cancer diagnosticians also in short supply.
It is proposed by the government that the increase in endoscopy staff would enable 500,000 digestive tract examinations to be conducted yearly by 2020.
In addition, the government also plans to treat cancers genetically on a much wider basis, with the hope of identifying more individualised treatments.
Thousands more patients will have their cancers genetically tested to identify potential individualised treatments under the proposed plans.
Commenting on the cancer plans within the National Health Service, Health Secretary Hunt proclaimed the government policy to be a step in the right direction.
“For people who are worried they may have cancer, waiting for that all important test result is a nerve-wracking time. We have a duty to make sure this period of uncertainty is as short as possible.
“For those who get the all-clear, they will have peace of mind sooner. Those who sadly have cancer will get treatment much quicker and we will save thousands of lives as a result.”
Bowel cancer fluctuates between being the second and third most common cancer in the UK.
In 2010, the incidence rate for bowel cancer was 58 new cases per 100,000 men, and 38 new cases per 100,000 women. This equates to just under 19,000 newly diagnosed cases in men, and just over 15,000 in women.
It is estimated that one in 14 men and one in 19 women will develop bowel cancer at some point in their lives.
The Cancer Drugs Fund in England has announced that it is to effectively eliminate a raft of medicines that have previously been utilised in cancer treatment.
This will effect 16 medicines that have previously been used in no less than 23 cancer treatments.
With this latest decision, the Cancer Drugs Fund has taken the radical action of effectively more than halving the number of treatments it covers.
The fund had suffered from repeated budgetary difficulties, and this has been the primary motivation to reduce the number of cancer medicines that it deals with.
Among the pharmaceutical products axed by the fund are medicines that treat breast, pancreatic and blood cancers.
Although there is an underlying economic motivation for the decision, it is not one that has found uniform favour.
The Rarer Cancers Foundation (RCF) was particularly critical of the action of the Cancer Drugs Fund, describing the news as a “hammer blow” for cancer sufferers.
As a result of the decision made by the fund, the RCF estimated that 5,500 patients would no longer be able to receive critical cancer treatment.
Yet defenders of the decision claim that the drugs do not provide sufficient assistance to cancer sufferers in order to justify their requisition after a cost-benefit analysis.
The Cancer Drugs Fund was originally set up by Prime Minister David Cameron with the specific remit of providing access to cancer medication.
However, NHS England reported that the fund was £100 million over budget in 2014-15.
Discussing the financial problems that the fund faces, Prof Peter Clark, the chairman of the Fund, stated: “There is no escaping the fact that we face a difficult set of choices, but it is our duty to ensure we get maximum value from every penny available on behalf of patients.
“We must ensure we invest in those treatments that offer the most benefit, based on rigorous evidence-based clinical analysis and an assessment of the cost of those treatments.”
NHS England claims that without significant delisting of drugs, the budget of the fund will increase further during the current financial year, reaching approximately £410 million in total.
Yet despite the economic arguments proffered for the delisting, Andrew Wilson, chief executive of the Rarer Cancers Foundation, was strongly critical of the action.
“These cuts will be a hammer blow to many thousands of desperately ill cancer patients and their families.
“Ministers told us they wanted to work with charities to develop a solution, but now the NHS has announced big reductions in access to existing life-extending treatment, with no action to make available the newest game-changing drugs.”
The charity Breast Cancer Now also described the day as a “dreadful” one for patients.
Over 150,000 people die from cancer in the UK every year.