Funding for cancer networks slashed by a quarter, Labour survey finds

10 December 2012

Liz Kendall

Funding for cancer networks slashed by a quarter, Labour survey finds 

NHS Check 5: Broken promises on clinical networks 

A survey of all Cancer, Heart and Stroke Networks in England, published today by Labour, reveals deep budget and staffing cuts. 

Despite Ministers’ repeated promises that funding for these vital groups of experts would be protected, figures released show: 

• Cancer Network budgets cut by over a quarter, and staff by a fifth since 2009/10.

• Stroke and Heart Network budgets cut by 12%, and staff by 16% in the same period.

• The Government’s NHS reorganisation is causing huge uncertainty and confusion about the future of clinical networks – destabilising the crucial services and support they provide.

Reduced funding and upheaval in the NHS is forcing many of these groups of local specialists to cut their workforce, reduce existing and future projects to improve patient care, and reject additional grants from charities as they are unable to make commitments into 2013/14.

Liz Kendall MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for Care and Older People, said:

"Ministers have repeatedly promised to protect the funding for clinical networks. Yet these figures clearly show this is another in the long list of this Government’s broken promises on the NHS. 

"Doctors, nurses and other experts brought together by cancer and cardiac networks are crucial to improving patient care for Britain’s biggest killers. The Government should be working to support these local specialists. Instead, David Cameron has wasted two and a half years and billions of pounds on an unnecessary back-office NHS reorganisation. He is throwing the networks into chaos and putting the future improvements patients need at risk."

Professor Sir Roger Boyle CBE, former National Director for Heart Disease and Stroke and currently Director of the National Centre for Cardiovascular Prevention and Outcomes at University College London said:

"Clinical networks have been instrumental in achieving dramatic improvements in heart and stroke care over the last decade. They have helped bring about a staggering 50% reduction in death rates from two of our big killers, heart disease and stroke.

"Examples include the centralisation of heart attack care for treatment by balloon angioplasty, and the reorganisation of stroke services so that stroke sufferers are cared for in specialised stroke units equivalent to coronary care units. Fewer stroke victims now die and many more are fit enough to return directly to their own homes.

"Ten years ago, it was all about tackling long waits for treatment. Now it is about helping people with heart failure, helping to prevent stroke and supporting those recovering from stroke.

"Clinical networks have helped revolutionise every step of the patient pathway from prevention of disease, iden tifying people at risk of disease and developing the most cost-effective methods of service improvement. We cannot do without them."

Dr Mick Peake, Consultant Respiratory Physician and National Clinical Lead for NHS Cancer Improvement and the National Cancer Intelligence Network said:

"Cancer Networks have been a central component of the improvements in cancer services in England over the last 10-15 years. They have been the source of expert clinical advice supporting the development, co-ordination and quality of services for cancer patients.

"With the shift towards GPs commissioning, the need for this expert and local specialist clinical advice will become ever more crucial. It is therefore vital that in the current re-organisation of the Cancer Networks that sufficient resource is made available to maintain the progress that has been hard won to date.

"I am worried that in the process of reorganisation of the networks there is a possibil ity that we will lose many expert and very committed individuals, and that this could impact on the quality of commissioning of cancer services in the future."

Maggie Wilcox, former Clinical Nurse Specialist in Palliative Care, and currently breast cancer patient, patient advocate on the Surrey, West Sussex and Hampshire Cancer network and President of Independent Cancer Patient Voice said:

"I am extremely concerned at the current appalling state of distress and confusion in our cancer networks. This threatens destruction of all that has been achieved over the past 12 years to improve cancer treatments and the experience of patients receiving care.

"Cancer networks, multi-disciplinary teams and patient and public involvement have been key to these improvements, but their expertise is now threatened. Sharing ideas, good practice and some administration is sensible, but subsuming cancer networks into generic clinical networks could be disastrou s for cancer patients - you cannot be both specialist and generalist.

"The reassurances we were repeatedly given by Andrew Lansley and his colleagues have proved false. Some networks are having funding withheld and staff have left, are planning to leave or are facing a very uncertain 2013. Enthusiasm is being replaced by frustration and despair.

"To have built such an improved model of cancer care and then to have it treated in such a cavalier manner is unacceptable."