‘What is the Government’s role in the fight against cancer?’

Larushka Mellor, head of public affairs and policy at Merck Serono asked John Baron MP, the Conservative chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer for his thoughts.

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1. The independent cancer taskforce published its 5-year strategy for cancer with a number of recommendations, in July 2015.  What do you think the government must do to ensure some of the biggest challenges contained within it are attainable?

“The current Government is following through on the good work of the Coalition, maintaining cancer as a key priority for the NHS. Both the Secretary of State for Health and the Minister with responsibility for Cancer, Jane Ellison MP, have been great supporters of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer (APPGC) in recent years, and my fellow Officers and I are looking forward to working alongside them to ensure cancer’s voice continues to be heard in Parliament.

Overall, I was pleased with the Independent Cancer Taskforce’s new cancer strategy. The sustained focus on health outcomes is pleasing, and continues the positive aspects of the last Parliament’s NHS reforms. I particularly welcome the ambition not only to monitor these health outcomes, but also to improve the NHS’ performance at achieving them.

However, the APPGC does have concerns lest the measures in the new strategy undermine our parallel work in persuading the NHS to take action on its cancer survival rates. The importance of this can not be overstated: it is estimated between 5,000 – 10,000 extra lives could be saved every year if the NHS matched European and international survival rates. Whilst the average NHS cancer patient has a 68% chance of surviving one year from diagnosis, in Sweden this rises to 82%. There is clearly scope for improvement.”

 

2. This will be the 7th year that you have chaired the Cancer APPG; what achievement in cancer policy are you most proud of?

“In 2009, the APPGC conducted a major report, which concluded the principle reason for the NHS’ underperformance was because it diagnosed cancer too late.   As a result, the APPGC focused its campaigning on the importance of improving earlier diagnosis. The Lansley NHS reforms, with their emphasis on local accountability coupled with a new focus on outcomes – measuring the success of treatment, rather than just its volume – dovetailed well with this approach.

Individual Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) now have the freedom to design solutions to improve earlier diagnosis – and therefore survival rates – appropriate to their populations. These could include screening programmes, awareness campaigns, and better GP training, amongst many others. The APPGC, together with the cancer community, successfully campaigned for one-year survival indicators to be embedded in the NHS’ new accountability frameworks, enabling the NHS’ performance, at both a local and national level, to be monitored.

The APPGC successfully persuaded the Chief Executive of NHS England to include one-year survival rates in the new overarching tier of CCG accountability, known as the ‘Delivery Dashboard’ from April 2015. This is superb news for patients and their families, as for the first time CCGs are being held accountable against their survival rates.”

What do you see as the biggest challenge to improve cancer outcomes over the next few years?

“From the APPGC’s standpoint, if the past few years have been about putting in place the tools required to reduce the ‘cancer gap’ between the NHS and other comparable health systems, then the next years will be about putting the tools to good use, driving up standards, highlighting best practice and shining a light on dark corners. It is an inspiring time to be involved with cancer policy, and, along with Government and the wider cancer community, the APPGC looks forward to playing its part through the new Parliament.”

John Baron MP, a former Shadow Health Minister, has been Chairman of the APPGC since 2009. 

Larushka Mellor is the Head of Public Affairs and Policy Manager at Merck Serono​.