NHS England Cancer Programme update for Spring 2024 highlights innovations and new technologies across early diagnosis, treatment, and performance

NHS England has published its latest Cancer Programme progress update for Spring 2024, highlighting innovations and new technologies in areas of work across early diagnosis, treatment and personalised care, and performance.

Under early diagnosis, NHSE’s focus has been on “identifying innovative new approaches and exploiting new technology”, modernising screening programmes, accelerating take-up of new technologies, and “building a pipeline of future interventions”.

According to the progress update, NHSE’s Innovation Open Call initiative has offered the financial backing for the development of new technologies to help in diagnosing cancer earlier, including the DERM AI tool to support the detection of skin cancers, and the Endoscope-I smartphone adapter to “turn an iPhone into diagnostic equipment for head and neck cancers”.

The update also highlights the Rapid Cancer Registration Dataset as “providing a more effective indicator of real time progress” on early diagnosis, demonstrating an increase of 2.1 percent in early diagnosis rates from 2019-20.

The Getting It Right First Time (GIRFT) programme has been supporting the use of data to improve treatment, with studies to date including a 71 hospital-wide project on lung cancer. According to the NHSE update, “as a result, trusts are starting to implement initiatives to deliver efficiencies and improve patient care, such as one stop clinics and the use of robotics and AI as part of the treatment pathway”.

The update also shares progress on performance, including a capital investment of £2.3 billion to increase diagnostic capacity, and plans to introduce 160 new Community Diagnostic Centres (CDCs) “located on high streets and in other places close to people’s homes”. To date, the update states that 106 of these CDCs are “operational”, providing “nearly 2.5 million tests, checks and scans in 2023/24”. One CDC per system is also being allocated as a provider of “tech-enabled dermoscopy services” to support the diagnosis of skin cancer.

Elsewhere on improving performance, the update notes modernisation and investment in acute imaging services.

Under future plans, the update discusses plans to utilise tech and AI to help “manage increasing demand” in areas such as mammography and dermatology; continuing with trials and accelerated take-up of innovations; and collaborating with the Office for Life Sciences (OLS) cancer mission to ensure that the NHS is involved in “actively testing and adopting the most cutting-edge technology from around the world”.

In related news, Barts Health NHS Trust has shared the results of a teledermatology pilot which has led to around 94 percent of people with suspected skin cancer being seen within two weeks at Whipps Cross Hospital, an increase from an average of 62 percent in 2022.

And from NHS England, new guidance has been published for primary care, focusing on helping general practice teams to use data in understanding and managing variations in demand and capacity.