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Cleaner and more patient-friendly NHS promised

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced plans to make the UK's NHS more patient-friendly and cleaner, in a speech to the Labour conference.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson has announced plans to make the UK's NHS more patient-friendly and cleaner, in a speech to the Labour conference.

Johnson said patients should be treated closer to their home and surgeries should be open "at times and in locations that suit the patient, not the practice."

"Pharmacies, sports centres and high street walk-in centres can do much more to provide primary care effectively and conveniently," Johnson continued.

A new hospital regulator with powers to impose fines and close down entire wards in hospitals that do not meet hygiene requirements will be introduced and hospitals across England will undergo an aggressive programme of intensive deep cleaning. It is hoped this will result in a more hygienic, brighter, cleaner environment for hospital users and make it easier to maintain a clean hospital in the future.

Cancer programme

On Monday September 24, the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that cancer screening is to be expanded, and will further improve cancer care by increasing access to screening and reducing waiting times.

A new Cancer Reform Strategy will be set out this autumn. For patients with breast problems this will include a guaranteed appointment with a specialist within two weeks of referral.

The age range of women eligible for breast screening will be extended from ages 50 to 70 to 47 to 73 years, allowing an extra 200,000 women a year to be screened.

"Screening is an essential and highly successful way of identifying breast cancer at an early stage. In addition, having faster access to specialists and treatment will reduce the anxiety many people tell us they face whilst waiting for appointments," said Samia al Qadhi, joint chief executive at UK charity Breast Cancer Care.

"It will also help to ensure that more cases of breast cancer are diagnosed early and treatment started promptly. This is vital as we know that early detection improves treatment options and can lead to a more successful outcome," al Qadhi continued. 

An expansion of the 62 day referral-to-treatment programme is also planned. Currently only those referred as an urgent case by their GP are guaranteed treatment within 62 days, meaning those referred via screening programmes or a consultant are not included. This will allow specialists in hospitals and screening centres to 'fast track' patients, putting them on a level with those referred urgently by their GP.

Cervical screening results will come back within 14 days ñ at present over half of patients wait six weeks or more.

"We need to ensure that these commitments are now put into practice without delay. Widening the ages at which women are automatically screened is just part of the solution. We need to look at ways of encouraging all women, and especially those over 70, to attend appointments and check their breasts.

"We look forward to seeing further improvements in services in the forthcoming publication of the Cancer Reform Strategy," concluded al Qadhi.

The age range for bowel screening will also be extended from 70 up to 75 years old in 2010. As a result, around one million more men and women will be screened each year.

25th September 2007

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