Intended for healthcare professionals


Many cancer networks are failing to improve services

BMJ 2006; 332 doi: (Published 26 January 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;332:193
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. London

    A high number of cancer networks—the groups set up to lead improvements in cancer services at a local level and to implement England's national cancer plan—are failing in their role, warns a report published this week.

    It found major variations in cancer mortality and in levels of access to newer drug treatments in different parts of England.

    The report reviewed what had been achieved five years into the NHS cancer plan, a 10 year strategy to provide a comprehensive approach to improving cancer services across the country.

    The House of Commons Committee of Public Accounts, which conducted the review as part of its role to examine public spending, found that 30% of networks it assessed had no comprehensive plans for providing cancer services in their area, even though the networks had been functioning for more than three years. It also found cancer networks to be inconsistent in monitoring their performance against the targets in the plan—with no monitoring at all taking place in five of the networks reviewed.

    Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the committee, said: “It is hard to believe that nearly a third of the networks visited by the NAO [National Audit Office] had no comprehensive plans for providing cancer services in their locality. But that was what they were set up to do. Their effectiveness needs to be monitored closely and, where necessary, improved.”

    The committee recommends that strategic health authorities, which are now responsible for ensuring that networks operate effectively, should review the effectiveness of cancer networks in their locality and put cancer service plans in place where necessary.

    All cancer networks should establish comprehensive arrangements to monitor progress against targets for which they are responsible, the report says. It also says that the national cancer director, Mike Richards, should identify and establish the most suitable monitoring framework.

    The committee found that cancer mortality, particularly from lung cancer, was highest in the most deprived areas, mostly reflecting lifestyles.

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    The national cancer director, Mike Richards, should set up a monitoring framework to measure progress towards targets, MPs say


    The report recommends that cancer networks should make clear in their delivery plans how they will reduce inequalities in cancer prevalence and mortality. The Department of Health should publish a progress report on the results of actions to address inequalities, it advises.

    The NHS Cancer Plan: A Progress Report is accessible at


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