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The National Cancer Peer Review programme is in danger!

written by

Leukaemia Care, Charity

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Representatives from across the cancer community (including Leukaemia CARE) have written to the Chief Executive of NHS England Simon Stevens to express our concern about the National Cancer Peer Review programme, which is currently paused pending the outcome of an internal review and may be discontinued from next year. Whilst this review does provide an opportunity to evaluate the programme, we feel that it would be a disastrous mistake to abandon it.

All cancer patients deserve the highest standards of care and treatment. In order to get the best treatments for them, patients need to be able to access accurate information about the services available so that they can make informed choices. The National Cancer Peer Review programme plays a key role in the collection of data on key national clinical guidelines and safety standards, which could not be replaced by any of the other current programmes. Despite the current opportunity to improve how the programme operates, we are concerned that this review is about scaling the programme back, rather than making it more effective. At a time when our cancer survival rates continue to lag behind most of Europe, we feel that abandoning peer review would be a mistake. Now is not the time to stop monitoring our cancer services. It would risk stalling progress when there is still so much left to achieve.

Furthermore, with concern for patient safety also high following the failings at Mid Staffordshire, we agree with the comments of the Francis Inquiry that peer review ‘needs to be a key part of the delivery and monitoring of any service or activity’. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health also recently told the House of Commons that the government feels that improving standards relies on ‘transparency, openness and the pressure of peer review’. We feel that discontinuing the National Cancer Peer Review programme at this time would create an inconsistent message.

We hope that this review will result in a programme that optimises the benefits for patients. However, if it is proposed that the programme should not continue, we hope that this decision will be subject to a public consultation of patients, clinical experts and the wider cancer community.

Monica Izmajlowicz, Leukaemia CARE’s Chief Executive said: “The National Cancer Peer Review programme is in danger of being cut, which we feel could have a concerning impact on cancer patients. Bearing in mind the fact that cancer survival rates in England are lower than in most of Europe, cancelling programmes like the National Cancer Peer Review programme, which monitors our cancer services, could hinder improvement. Surely any decision which affects the treatment of patients should be made following consultation with the wider cancer community?”