Yesterday, NHS England released their long term plan. Rebecca Rennison, Director of Public Affairs and Services at Target Ovarian Cancer, takes a closer look at the plan and talks through what it means for women with ovarian cancer, and those yet to be diagnosed.
It can sometimes feel like the NHS is awash with plans and strategies. We have the five year forward view and the current cancer strategy - now we have a long term plan too?
To provide a bit of context, the long term plan originates from the commitment the government made in summer 2018 that the NHS in England would get an extra £20 billion a year more by 2023. Obviously the Government doesn’t like to hand over money without being clear about what it’ll get in return, so the NHS agreed to produce a long term plan setting out how it would spend the extra cash and who would benefit.
Right from the outset, cancer was one of the key issues being talked about, including by the Prime Minister in her speech to Conservative Party Conference last autumn. Here she made the commitment that by 2028, three quarters of cancers would be diagnosed at an early stage, when the cancer is more treatable, which would vastly increase cancer survival rates.
In order to develop the plan, the NHS ran a consultation to ask what people thought should be in it, in particular, what their top three priorities for improving cancer outcomes were. Target Ovarian Cancer is committed to amplifying the voices of women with ovarian cancer in the public arena and so we talked to women with ovarian cancer and their families to ask what they thought, before calling for investment in these three things in our submission to the NHS:
- Early diagnosis: raising awareness of the symptoms of ovarian cancer; implementing the 28 day diagnostic target set out in the cancer strategy and continued roll-out of multi-disciplinary diagnostic services.
- Data: expanding the cancer dashboard to include data on rare and less common cancers like ovarian cancer; supporting the creation of an ovarian cancer audit.
- Universal access to world-class surgery: ensuring all women receive surgery at a specialist centre with an experienced surgeon.
Two out of three ain't bad...
The plan published today delivers on the first and last of these: early diagnosis and surgery.
We already have ten multi-disciplinary diagnostic services (also known as Rapid Diagnostic Centres) and the long term plan commits to more being rolled out this year. These are designed to help GPs when it isn’t clear or they are not sure where to refer a patient. By 2020, the new faster diagnosis standard will begin to be introduced. Nearly half of women with ovarian cancer report having to wait over three months for a diagnosis, so the new 28-day target can be expected to make a real difference.
On surgery, we have been working with ovarian cancer experts on how we can improve how ovarian cancer surgery is commissioned and the standards it is delivered to. We know the very best centres in the UK are world-leading and we want to ensure every woman is accessing the same high standard of surgery. The commitment in the long-term plan to “ensure greater access to specialist expertise and knowledge in the treatment of cancers… starting with ovarian cancer”, is extremely promising and we look forward to being able to share more information as this work progresses.
While the issue of cancer data wasn’t directly addressed, we were delighted with the publication of further ovarian cancer data before Christmas and will continue to work to get more data out into the public domain.
It seems fair to therefore give today’s long term plan a score of two out of three, and we are delighted to see ovarian cancer mentioned specifically, and that it addresses so many of the issues that have been raised by Target Ovarian Cancer campaigners. However, as ever, the real test is in the delivery. Target Ovarian Cancer is committed to holding the government to account with this plan. We will bring you regular updates on their progress in transforming cancer services and providing women with the expert care they deserve.
You can read the full long term plan here.