Key points

  • This report looks at progress in cancer care over two decades. It finds that progress has been made on reducing mortality, and improving the chances of survival and the experience of care, for people in England diagnosed with cancer. 
  • However, despite persistent ambitions to be the best in Europe and the world, the gap in survival rates has not been closed.
  • The report sets out recommendations to help close the gap in survival between England and other comparable countries.

Read the executive summary

This report looks back to the launch of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000, which noted that England had poorer survival than in other European countries and promised that by 2010 ‘our 5-year survival rates for cancer will compare with the best in Europe’. 

It finds that progress has been made on reducing mortality, and improving the chances of survival and the experience of care, for people in England diagnosed with cancer. However, the gap in survival rates has not been closed. 

The report sets out recommendations to help bring about radical improvements in early diagnosis and detection of cancer, such as increasing investment in diagnostic equipment, building public understanding of cancer symptoms, improving resourcing of primary care, greater support for GPs to refer more patients and supporting collaboration across primary and secondary care. 

It concludes that the disruption caused by the Health and Social Care Act 2012 led to a loss of momentum that is only recently being rebuilt, and highlights that it is crucial that local clinicians and managers are supported to work across organisational boundaries to improve care, share experience and learn improvement skills.

Cite this publication

Richards M, Thorlby R, Fisher R, Torton C, 'Unfinished business: an assessment of the national approach to improving cancer services in England 1995–2015'. Health Foundation; 2018 (https://www.health.org.uk/publications/unfinished-business)

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