What is a vanguard?

A vanguard is a partnership or alliance of health organisations. NHS England has given vanguard status to 50 such partnerships. These partnerships are at the forefront of exploring new ways of delivering health services.

Why has the National Cancer Vanguard been created?

The vanguard has been created in response to both the Five Year Forward View, published by NHS England in 2014, and the independent cancer task force’s 2015 recommendations. These called for:

  • A radical upgrade in prevention and public health
  • A national focus on achieving earlier diagnosis in cancer patients
  • Putting patient experience on a par with clinical effectiveness and safety
  • A transformation in support for people living with and beyond cancer
  • Further Investment to deliver a modern high quality service
  • New processes for commissioning, accountability and provision

The National Cancer Vanguard aims to deliver these goals, among others.

Who is involved in the vanguard?

There are three main partners in the vanguard: The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, University College London Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and The Christie NHS Foundation Trust. These three trusts in turn lead local networks of health organisations in their areas.

What tangible improvements can we expect to see?

We aim to make a number of changes, some of which are technical and will affect the way various parts of the health service interact and will hardly be noticeable to patients. All the changes will, however, aim to reduce the number of people being diagnosed with cancer and improve patients’ chances of survival. Patients will also experience greater quality care.

In some areas, we are planning diagnostic centres that will be able to diagnose patients during the course of a single visit – a one-stop diagnostic centre. This will help us diagnose cancer sooner than we do now. We will also run campaigns to raise awareness of cancer symptoms and promote healthier lifestyles, and will rely on community ‘champions’ to spread the message. In everything we do, patients will play a much larger role in making decisions about how they are treated.

What makes the vanguard different from other efforts to improve cancer treatment and care?

We will make some important changes to the relationships between and among various health service organisations. The way cancer services are commissioned – planned and paid for – will be streamlined to make the process more efficient. In future, there will be just one organisation responsible for commissioning these services [Manchester only?]. There will be just a single ‘system’ for delivering services [Manchester only], and there will be a ‘system leader’ that will be held accountable for delivering them. This has never been tried before and it will lead to a fairer, more consistent and efficient way of doing things. Our aim is for cancer services in London and Manchester to be the best in the country and stand comparison with the highest European standards.

How will cancer patients themselves be involved in the vanguard?

We will work with existing patient groups and patient representatives to ensure they, their families and carers are meaningfully involved at every stage in shaping how the new system will work. We aim to consult far and wide with patients because we need to know what is important to them in future services. We are exploring ways of involving more patients in our engagement and consultation work.

Creating the cancer vanguard suggests that cancer services are not as good as they might be.

We accept that in some cases cancer care is not as good as it should be. Health organisations do not always act in a joined up way and there are variations in the quality of care which are unacceptable. Patients’ experience of their care is not always positive. In addition, more people are being diagnosed with cancer – half of all those people born after 1960 can expect to be diagnosed with cancer, but more than half of those diagnosed today will live for at least 10 years. For all these reasons the National Cancer Vanguard has been set up to explore new and better ways of doing things.