NHS Cancer Plan

To read the NHS Cancer Plan in full, please visit the Department of Health website at NHS Cancer Plan.



Every year 200,000 people are diagnosed with cancer in England. And every year 120,000 people lose their lives to the disease. Cancer is one of the biggest killers in this country, and the Government has made it one of the central priorities for the NHS. This Cancer Plan is a major programme of action linking prevention, diagnosis, treatment, care and research together. The Cancer Plan has been drawn up through extensive consultation with professionals and patients across the country.

This Cancer Plan sets out a programme of investment and reform. It is linked to the NHS Plan aims of increasing the number of doctors, nurses and other staff and providing more equipment for cancer care, but also modernising the NHS too, through new national standards and new ways of working to prevent and treat cancer. It puts the patient at the centre of cancer care.

More than one in three people in England will develop cancer at some stage in their lives. One in four will die of cancer. This means that, every year, over 200,000 people are diagnosed with cancer, and around 120,000 people die from cancer. So better prevention of cancer, better detection of cancer, and better treatment and care, matter to us all.


Aims of the Cancer Plan

The Cancer Plan sets out the first comprehensive national cancer programme for England. It has four aims:

  • to save more lives to ensure people with cancer get the right professional support and care as well as the best treatments
  • to tackle the inequalities in health that mean unskilled workers are twice as likely to die from cancer as professionals
  • to build for the future through investment in the cancer workforce, through strong research and through preparation for the genetics revolution, so that the NHS never falls behind in cancer care again.

For the first time this plan provides a comprehensive strategy for bringing together prevention, screening, diagnosis, treatment and care for cancer and the investment needed to deliver these services in terms of improved staffing, equipment, drugs, treatments and information systems.


Investment in the Cancer Plan

The Cancer Plan sets out how additional investment will need to be accompanied by reform:

  • through new ways of working to streamline cancer services around the needs of the patient;
  • through extending the roles of radiographers, nurses and other staff; and
  • through guidance to ensure high standards of treatment and care are in place right across the country.

At the heart of the Plan are three new commitments. These are:

(1) In addition to the existing Smoking Kills target of reducing smoking in adults from 28% to 24% by 2010, new national and local targets to address the gap between socio-economic groups in smoking rates and the resulting risks of cancer and heart disease:

  • reduce smoking rates among manual groups from 32% in 1998 to 26% by 2010, so that we can narrow the health gap to set local targets to reduce smoking rates in areas with the highest rates.


(2) New goals and targets to reduce waiting times for diagnosis and treatment so that:

  • the ultimate goal is that no one should wait longer than one month from an urgent referral for suspected cancer to the beginning of treatment except for a good clinical reason or through patient choice.
  • for some uncommon cancers like acute leukaemia, children's cancers and testicular cancer, this is what most patients already experience.
  • for other cancers this will take time to achieve, so the Government has set milestones along the way: by 2005 there will be a maximum one month wait from diagnosis to treatment for all cancers; by 2005 there will be a maximum two month wait from urgent GP referral to treatment for all cancers.


(3) An extra £50 million NHS investment a year by 2004 in hospices and specialist palliative care, to improve access to these services across the country.