I fully recognise the urgency of Pancreatic Cancer UK’s campaign to ensure that the optimal care pathway for treatment is implemented. Given that the UK ranks 15th out of 16 European countries for five-year pancreatic cancer survival, much more must be done to increase early diagnosis to reduce the survival gap between pancreatic cancer and other cancers.
The NHS Long Term Plan set an ambition to improve these outcomes, so that 75 per cent of all cancers can be diagnosed at stage 1 and 2 by 2028 when it is easier to treat. This ambition will be achieved through ongoing work between the Department of Health and Social Care to increase early diagnosis and survival rates for pancreatic cancer. Through the Elective Recovery Plan, the Government is investing £2.3 billion to create more Community Diagnostic Centres which will be prioritised for cancer services.
A Faster Diagnosis Standard for cancer will be introduced so that patients who are referred urgently or identified by NHS cancer screening have a maximum 28-day wait for being told whether they have cancer or not. In addition, there will be a maximum 31-day wait from a decision to treat to any cancer treatment starting for all cancer patients.
Pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT) is an important and valuable treatment that can help those who suffer with pancreatic cancer manage the symptoms of problems with digestion and cope better with treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery. This can have a significant impact on quality of life.
Therefore, I am glad that the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence’s guidelines recommend that PERT should be considered for people with both operable and inoperable pancreatic cancer. I fully appreciate there is more work to be done to increase awareness of PERT among healthcare professionals. To this end the NHS has commissioned an audit into pancreatic cancer which will look to reduce variations in treatment and improve patient outcomes.
Data from this audit will be published in due course, and in the meantime the NHS continues to work with Pancreatic Cancer UK to raise awareness of PERT, including sharing guidance with Cancer Alliances.
In addition, a Major Conditions Strategy is also being developed, which will focus on improving outcomes for cancer patients over the longer term. Patient groups, like Pancreatic Cancer UK, have provided valuable insight on what it is like to live with pancreatic cancer in their response to the call for evidence to the strategy consultation. I look forward to the strategy being published in due course.
My understanding is that the NHS is also implementing non-specific symptom (NSS) pathways for patients who present with vague and non-site specific symptoms (including pancreatic cancer symptoms) which do not align clearly to a tumour type. The NSS programme aims to achieve full population coverage across England for NSS pathways by March 2024.
Please be assured that every effort is being made to improve early diagnosis and survival rates for pancreatic cancer.