Gibbons Signals £4.5m More For The Fight Against Cancer

Wales has made “significant” improvements to cancer services for patients, Assembly Health Minister Dr Brian Gibbons claimed yesterday. Announcing a £4.5m boost to improve cancer services, he also said the NHS has made “substantial progress” in meeting one and two-month waiting times for patients with suspected cancer.

But Dr Gibbons said the focus must now be on ensuring that patients get the best quality services. He said he wants Wales to provide as many services as possible in-house, saving patients from having to travel to England.

The Welsh Assembly Government yesterday announced its multi-million-pound cash boost to help meet the new national cancer standards by March 2009. The money will also be used to strengthen the three Welsh cancer networks.

Dr Gibbons said, “Cancer remains one of the top priorities for the Assembly Government. We have made significant progress in rising to the challenge and giving flesh to our commitment in relation to cancer. Cancer is moving, hopefully, from being a relatively short-span, terminal illness to being a condition that will be managed on a chronic basis.”

The £4.5m announcement, made yesterday at Velindre Hospital, in Cardiff, is the Assembly Government’s latest response to a damning review of cancer services in Wales carried out by the Assembly’s health and social services committee.

The review report, which was published in February, said Wales was failing to get the basics right, with a large variation in access to services across the country. The review also found key shortfalls in the provision of radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery in Wales, all of which could have potentially disastrous effects on a patient’s treatment and chance of surviving cancer.

A proportion of the £4.5m will be retained by the Assembly Government to issue centrally and some will be used to strengthen Wales’ three cancer networks, although it is not yet clear how much each will get.

The Assembly Government published its national cancer standards in January, which set out what patients can expect from the NHS in Wales. This includes a pledge to cut Wales’ cancer rates to the same level as the healthiest parts of the EU by 2015. Wales currently has some of the highest rates of cancer in Europe.

But despite the additional money for cancer services, Jonathan Morgan, Welsh Conservatives’ health spokesman who suggested the cancer review, said, “Brian Gibbons cannot disguise this government’s lack of progress in tackling cancer and providing treatment to people when they need it most.

“New investment is always welcome but it will do nothing to reassure people that cancer services will improve. The Assembly Government has a duty to respond to each of the recommendations in the health committee’s cancer review with a timetable for action. It must also demonstrate a willingness to provide a strategic approach to tackling the problems. Instead, the government seeks to use the end of term as a last-ditch attempt to ingratiate itself with the people of Wales.”

He added, “People in Wales wait longer for their diagnosis and treatment. We have less access to hi-tech equipment and we have witnessed a postcode lottery in access to medicines. Local health boards are ineffective, Health Commission Wales is badly run, and no-one seems to know what the cancer networks are there to do. These are the big issues that need to tackled in a strategic way.”