England has failed to close the gap in the nations with the best performance when it comes to cancer treatment, despite 20 years of attempts, an analysis suggests.
The Health Foundation's review of the government's registry between 1995 and 2015 said that despite four strategies setting ambitious goals, the NHS was still lagging behind the best.
He said that if services were improved, 10,000 lives could be saved each year.
Ensuring early diagnosis was critical, he said.
Prof. Sir Mike Richards, a former government cancer czar who led the review, cautioned patients were finding it very difficult to gain access to tests and tests.
"While progress has been achieved, the goals of all these strategies have not been met."
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He said the number of lost life-saving opportunities is tantamount to a "jumbo jet of people falling from the sky every two weeks."
It comes just a month after the prime minister promised to make early diagnosis of cancer a top priority for NHS spending in the coming years.
Cancer waiting times "at the worst level ever"
How far is the NHS?
Survival rates are improving. In 2000, 62% of the patients survived for at least one year. By 2015, this proportion has risen to 72%.
Meanwhile, five-year survival increased from 42% to 53%.
But other nations have also improved. The Health Foundation highlighted the UK's performance against five other nations – Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.
This was done for six types of cancer – colon, rectum, breast, lung, ovary and prostate.
For each, the United Kingdom has remained between the last two since 2000, for a five year survival. Only in breast cancer is it really closed the gap with the best.
The think tank highlighted the numbers showing 10,000 deaths that could be avoided each year with a better diagnosis. This represents one in 13 deaths from the disease.
What is the problem?
Sir Mike talks about the "tight gate" in the NHS.
He said the GPs were under pressure not to refer many patients while the NHS did not have enough equipment or equipment to perform all the tests and tests it should.
Tackling that would require major investments, the report said.
GPs report nearly two million patients a year for urgent tests and exams – almost four times the number they made a decade ago.
But the increase in referrals coincided with long waiting periods, with the NHS now struggling to achieve its goals.
And despite the extra numbers being mentioned, one in five cases is still diagnosed through an emergency presentation at locations such as emergency units and accidents.
Patients diagnosed by this route are less likely to survive, since the cancer was diagnosed late.
Sir Mike said the services were also hampered by the Health and Care Act of 2012, which led to the breakup of regional groups of cancer experts as part of the broader shift in health care.
He said that this has led many experienced professionals to leave the NHS.
What is the government doing?
Sir Mike praised the fact that the government had promised extra funding – £ 20 billion more per year by 2023 – and that cancer would be the main focus for that.
Last month, the prime minister promised a new strategy to ensure that three-quarters of the cancer was diagnosed early – currently only half of it is.
NHS England is already testing rapid diagnostic clinics. These are basically one-stop test centers, where patients can have access to a variety of different experts and procedures, often on the same day.
Sir Mike said that these steps would help.
He also called for more to be done to raise awareness among the public about the signs and symptoms to be observed – surveys show that people in the UK are sometimes reluctant to speak out when they are showing signs of cancer.
And he said the NHS needed to look at new approaches, pointing to research showing that people at high risk of lung cancer could benefit from a new way of screening for the disease using low CT scans.
The Department of Health and Welfare said that improving early diagnosis was a "key priority", noting that from next year a new 28-day diagnostic goal would be implemented.
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