Hunt announces 'Ofsted-style' ratings system in bid to improve cancer care


Jeremy Hunt has announced an "Ofsted-style" evaluation system for clinical commissioning groups in a bid to improve cancer care in the UK.

The system, which will come into place in the next year, will see a ratings system used to assess variations in cancer outcomes.

Speaking at the Britain Against Cancer conference in Central Hall Westminster, the Health Secretary said the last year has been "a very good 12 months' work of cancer campaigning" and pointed to increased survival rates in the last year.

He said he is particularly excited about the ratings system, which is a first for this country.

"We are going to look holistically on the entire spectrum of cancer care offered on a CCG by CCG basis," he said. "We are going to look at early diagnosis, treatment, post-diagnostic care and support, everything across all 209 CCGs and we are on an annual basis going to give them Ofsted-style ratings just as we do for hospitals and GP surgeries.

"The national statistics actually mask very significant variations in care across the country. If we really want to have the best cancer care in the world then we have to reduce those variations and we have to understand where they exist so that something can be done about them.

"The purpose of this annual rating would be to understand that."

He said: "We will be measuring on a quarterly basis, for the first time, the numbers of cancers diagnosed at stage one and two, and we will also be measuring on a quarterly basis the number of cancers diagnosed in emergency care.

"That will be one of the real disciplines that helps us to understand whether the major reforms we are putting through to improve our hospital care, whether we are actually using those changes to improve early diagnosis of cancer."

Mr Hunt went on to announce a quality of life indicator for people living with cancer, to be introduced by 2018.

He said: "My ambition for the NHS is very simple. I want the NHS to offer the safest, highest quality care of any healthcare system anywhere in the world. And I think cancer is a pretty good litmus test of whether we were making progress with that ambition."

It comes on the day Macmillan Cancer Support said that a lack of support for people living with cancer is putting "unsustainable" pressure on the NHS.

The charity said the NHS in England spends more than £500 million a year on emergency care for people diagnosed with the four most common cancers, and urged the health service to bring an end to its "dysfunctional" approach to dealing with the disease.

Earlier in the day, shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander told the conference there needs to be "rapid progress" in treatment for people living with cancer.

Ms Alexander said four in five patients are still not offered a written assessment or care plan, and one in five say they are treated as a "set of symptoms" rather than a person.

"We need to see rapid progress on new measures for patient experience and quality of life and we should not just be interested in the experiences of people in hospitals, but in the experiences of people living with and beyond cancer, too."

She added: "We must preserve the UK's status as a world leader when it comes to cancer research."

She said between 2009/10 and 2012/13, £800 million was cut from cancer spending.

"Waiting times for key diagnostic tests have increased dramatically and the cancer treatment target - the target that exists to ensure swift access to treatment - has been continually missed, so much so that failure to meet this standard has become the norm.

"For a country that aspires to be the best in the world, I am not sure it is good enough."

John Baron, chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on cancer, said Britain continues to lag behind other services in dealing with the disease.

He said 10,000 to 15,000 lives could be saved each year, which would bring the country up to European averages.

"Hundreds of millions of pounds are misspent because of a lack of specific tailor-made treatments," he said.

Harpal Kumar, chairman of the independent cancer task force and chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said England is "closing the gap" on other countries in terms of dealing with breast cancer but not for lung and bowel cancer.

Mr Kumar, who chaired the taskforce which produced this year's national cancer strategy, said: "This is an exciting time for the cancer community but we must not underestimate the scale of the task."

He said the current medical workforce will not be able to hit the targets set, adding: "We are way below the capacity we need in order to deliver earlier diagnosis.

"This is the area where there is the most work to be done. It is the area I am most worried about. Across the whole pathway we are seeing workforce deficits.

"I am an outside observer looking into the health system but if other organisations ran their workforce the NHS does we would be in real trouble.

"We tend to lurch from one crisis to the next. We need to take a long-term approach to this but also need to do some short term things as well.

"If we don't start addressing almost today the shortage in radiologists and radiographers we will not make progress in the next five years."

Cally Palmer, the newly appointed national cancer director at NHS England, said: "We are going in the right direction, we just need to accelerate that work. The best cancer care anywhere - I want that to be our goal."