Charities attack Government plans for single strategy to tackle major illnesses

Charities have criticised Government plans to create a single strategy to tackle major illnesses such as cancer, mental health and dementia.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Tuesday that the Department of Health and Social Care will develop a “major conditions strategy” to combine existing Government commitments on mental health, cancer, dementia and health disparities “into a single, powerful strategy”.

However, the YoungMinds charity said it was concerned by the move, which would scrap a 10-year mental health plan promised last year.

Macmillan Cancer Support said a 10-year cancer plan, also promised by ministers, had “been discarded”, while the CatchUpWithCancer campaign said it was “deeply concerned”.

The Alzheimer’s Society said people were still waiting for the promised 10-year strategy on dementia, warning its aims risked being lost in a broader strategy.

In a written statement, Mr Barclay said the new plan would cover cancer, cardiovascular diseases (including stroke and diabetes), chronic respiratory diseases, dementia, mental ill health and musculoskeletal disorders.

He said tackling these areas “is critical to achieving our manifesto commitment of gaining five extra years of healthy life expectancy by 2035, and our levelling up mission to narrow the gap in healthy life expectancy by 2030”.

He added: “Our approach will harness the potential of whole person care, addressing the fact that our health and care system has been built in silos, often focused around specific diseases or organs in the body.”

He said the NHS needs to adapt and reflect that “the NHS is caring for patients with increasingly complex needs and with multiple long-term conditions.”

The Cabinet member said the strategy and an upcoming NHS workforce plan will “work together to set out the standards patients should expect in the short term and over a five-year timeframe”.

He added: “This is about shifting our model towards preserving good health, and the early detection and treatment of diseases.”

But Tom Madders, director of campaigns at YoungMinds, expressed concerns about the move.

He said: “The Government promised a 10-year mental health plan in the summer of last year, but this major conditions strategy amounts to a significantly delayed interim report that wraps mental health up with other health conditions.

“Whilst more young people are in mental health crisis than ever before, we are deeply concerned that this golden opportunity to turn the tide on young people’s mental health will be missed.

“The Secretary of State’s indication that there will be further consultation will be frustrating news to the 14,000 young people who last year told the Government loud and clear what change was needed.

“Whilst we remain hopeful that this plan can deliver some changes in the short term, we are concerned that this one-size-fits-all strategy will fail to adequately address a rapidly escalating crisis in mental health.”

Kate Lee (pictured), chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: “Just last week we delivered to Downing Street an open letter signed by thousands of campaigners calling for delivery of the promised 10-year plan for dementia. They expect and deserve urgent action.

“It’s encouraging to see that the Government recognises dementia as one of the biggest health and care challenges of our time, but we don’t want action on the distinct challenges of dementia to be lost within a broad strategy covering so many other serious health conditions.

“We need a bold, ambitious plan for dementia and it remains to be seen whether this is the route for that to happen.”

Gemma Peters, chief executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “To hear the 10-year cancer plan has been discarded is hugely disappointing and a major downgrade from what was promised.

“Cancer services are already buckling under immense pressure, with too many people facing devastating delays to life saving tests and treatment.

“Whilst some of the challenges facing cancer services affect the whole NHS, including the urgent need to tackle inequalities and recruit and retain the workforce needed for the future, there are life threatening problems in cancer care that require special attention.

“It’s vital that the specific issues facing cancer care aren’t neglected and urgent action is taken to ensure people can get the timely, quality care they need, when they need it.”

Professor Pat Price, co-founder of the #CatchUpWithCancer campaign and oncologist, said: “We are deeply concerned that today’s announcement could be at the expense of an urgent new 10-year cancer plan.

“Cancer patients cannot wait. We must not let the cancer emergency fall off the agenda. All backlogs are devastating, but the cancer backlog is the deadliest and most time-pressing of all.

“We know that every four weeks of delay in cancer treatment can lead to a 10% increase in risk of death.

“A radical cancer plan, with inclusion of treatment capacity solutions including radiotherapy, is desperately needed to tackle the backlog and save more lives now.”

Alzheimer’s Research UK said the plan was a “step in the right direction”.

Dr Layla McCay, director of policy at the NHS Confederation, welcomed the focus “on integrated, whole-person care” and services working together.

Sarah Woolnough, chief executive of Asthma and Lung UK, said: “We hope this new strategy listens to the experiences of those affected and builds on the foundations NHS England has laid so far.”

Dr Charmaine Griffiths, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “This new strategy is a welcome opportunity to build a better future for heart patients.

“A joined-up approach across Government will be vital if we are to see meaningful progress in reducing the huge impact of cardiovascular disease.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: “It’s very disappointing that ministers have opted to publish a ‘catch-all’ major conditions strategy rather than the ambitious 10-year cancer plan they had originally promised.

“Evidence from the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership has shown, unequivocally, that those countries which enjoy the best outcomes benefit from disease-specific strategies.

“By combining cancer with other major conditions in a watered-down plan, government risks failing to focus on the problem at hand – the need to urgently improve waiting times for cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“We urge ministers not to further dilute their commitment to cancer and deliver a fully costed cancer plan that will swiftly turn things around for cancer patients and their families.”

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