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David Ellesmere: Labour's plan to improve Britain's cancer services

Cancer is a disease which holds a unique horror. For much of human history cancers have been incurable and the best the medical profession could hope for was to try and make you more comfortable as the disease took hold. 

Now though, advances in medical science mean that many cancers are treatable. Some cancers, for instance some forms of prostate cancer, can be kept in check with drugs and are now essentially chronic conditions. 

The most important thing is early diagnosis and treatment. Sadly, thats where we appear to be going backwards. 

Under David Cameron spending on cancer services in the NHS has fallen by nearly £800m in real terms. The effects are now becoming apparent. 

The number of women screened for breast cancer has fallen for the third year in a row with 30,000 fewer women being screened now compared to three years ago. 

The target for cancer patients to be treated within two months of referral by their GP has been breached for the whole of the last year. More than 20,000 patients had to wait more than two months. 

Within those figures, some people had to wait more than four months for surgery. After that length of time, some tumours can spread and become inoperable.

Labour has set out clear plans to improve cancer services with the aim for the NHS to match the best in Europe for cancer survival.

Top priority is to introduce a guarantee of a maximum one week wait for cancer tests and results. We would start with the cancers clinicians say it is most important to diagnose early such as bowel, ovarian and lung cancers. 

There would be better screening programmes, a new round of public awareness campaigns to help us recognise cancer symptoms and to encourage going to our GP if we think we have the relevant symptoms. GPs would be better trained and supported to spot cancer and commission tests. 

We would also introduce a right to an appointment within 48 hours so you can actually get to see a GP quickly if you suspect you might have symptoms. 

Whatever the advances in medical science in future, no one is ever going to welcome a diagnosis of cancer. But there is already much more we can, and should, do to ensure that more people are able to survive one.



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