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Editorial Tuesday 19 June 2012: Cancer network funding thrown into uncertainty

Westminster Hall debates in Parliament rarely make the news, but today's by Lib Dem MP John Pugh must might.

Hansard records that Labour's shadow health minister Liz Kendall used the occasion to ask anonymity-prone Lib Dem Health Minister Paul 'Who?' Burstow  about the proposed funding for cancer networks from April 2013.


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Liz Kendall asked, "During debates on the Health and Social Care Bill, we asked whether cancer networks would continue in the NHS and, if so, how they would be funded. In May last year, the Secretary of State for Health said that the Government would fund and support cancer networks in 2012 and that, after that, the NHS Commissioning Board would continue to support and strengthen them. Over a year later, however, the future of cancer networks is still unclear.

"The NHS Commissioning Board has recently published early proposals for clinical networks, which include the new strategic clinical networks prescribed by the NHS Commissioning Board. The proposals also mention 14 to 15 overarching networks in England that will cover a specific geographical area and review the work of the prescribed strategic clinical networks every six months. I think, however, that people are still quite confused about how that will work, and the Government’s proposals do not refer specifically to the 28 cancer networks. I therefore ask the Minister whether all 28 current cancer networks will become prescribed strategic clinical networks, or will their number be reduced? How will they fit into the umbrella networks?

"Funding is crucial. In response to a parliamentary question on 21 May this year, the Minister stated that strategic health authorities will be given £18.5 million to fund cancer networks in 2012-13, just as in the previous two years. Page 6 of the recent document from the Department of Health, 'Progress Update on the Design of the NHSCB' states 'Around £10 million of the costs of supporting Networks and Senates are expected to count against running costs'.

That seems to imply that the £10 million is to run not only cancer networks but all clinical networks and senates and that would be a cut of £8.5 million to the cancer networks. Will the Minister say whether the £10 million referred to in the document about the future functioning of the NHS Commissioning Board covers all networks, or cancer networks alone? That is a real concern for people who work in cancer networks and are already worried about the future.".

Minister Who? replied, "On funding cancer networks, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made the position clear. We have provided funding for the remaining year for which the Department is responsible. Indicative figures have been set out. A review is going on of clinical networks and how they are governed. That will ultimately determine precisely how much resource is allocated. There is no final figure at this stage".

Oops-tastic. Cancer enjoys totemic regard in the pantheon of illnesses the public fear. Cancer networks have proven useful means to address and reduce variations in quality of care, under the able leadership of deft political player Sir Mike Richards.

U-turn if Minister Who wants to?