Broken promises on clinical networks

This is  Labour Party  NHS Check 5 originally published by Labour’s Shadow Health Team in December 2012


•The government has broken its promise to protect funding for cancer networks and heart and stroke networks – vital groups of clinicians and other experts that drive improvements in patient care.

•Cancer networks say their budgets have been cut by a quarter, and their staff by a fifth since 2009/10. Heart and stroke networks say their budgets have been cut by 12% and their staff by 16%.

Funding for both types of networks has fallen year on year under the government, and is now 21% lower than when labour left office.

These cuts mean vital work to improve patient care for cancer and cardiac disease – Britain’s biggest killers –‐ is being scaled back or dropped altogether.

The government’s NHS reorganisation has caused huge uncertainty and confusion about the future of clinical networks, and risks losing vital local specialist expertise


• A Freedom of Information survey by Labour reveals severe cuts to budgets and staff in cancer, stroke and heart disease networks, despite repeated reassurances from the Government that funding for clinical networks has been protected.

• Labour received responses from 86% of all Cancer Networks and 82% of Cardiac Networks in England.

Cuts to budgets:

• Responses from Cancer Networks show that their funding has been cut by 26% between 2009/10 and 2012/13. • Stroke and Heart (Cardiac) Network budgets have been cut by 12% in the same period.

Fall in the budgets of Cancer and Cardiac Networks in England (in millions of pounds):
Fall in the budgets of Cancer and Cardiac Networks in England (in millions of pounds)

Cuts to staffing levels:

• Cancer Networks have lost at least 72 members of staff,  20% of their workforce , since 2009/10

• Cardiac Networks have lost at least 38 members of staff, 16% of their workforce, since 2009/10

Fall in the number of staff employed by Cancer and Cardiac Networks in England:
Fall in the number of staff employed by Cancer and Cardiac Networks in England

Cuts, chaos and confusion

Funding cuts combined with the Government’s massive NHS reorganisation have caused huge uncertainty and confusion about the future of clinical networks.

Cancer and Heart and Stroke Networks were supported by regional Strategic Health Authorities. They received funding from  a number of sources including both core and specific project funding from the Department of Health, funding from Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts (PCTs), and charities like Macmillan Cancer Support.
Strategic Health Authorities and PCTs were abolished under the Health and Social Care Act 2012. Networks will now be hosted centrally by the new NHS Commissioning Board. Cancer and Cardiac Networks are being merged to cover larger geographical areas and with networks for other medical conditions.
Networks say they are unclear both about their own future and how the new structures will work. This lack of clarity has had a considerable impact on their work:
• Uncertainty as to what will happen after March 2013 has resulted in Networks reducing the number of existing and future projects and initiatives.
• Many have not replaced leaving members of staff due to their unsure future.
• Networks are very concerned that they will have fewer staff to cover wider geographical areas, reducing the effectiveness of their work and risking the loss of vital local specialist expertise.
• At least one network was forced to decline additional grants from charities as this would have required them to make commitments into 2013/14, which they were not in a position to make.


‘The cancer networks funding is guaranteed during the course of 2011-­‐12. There is not a gap, because from April 2012 onwards the NHS commissioning board will take up its responsibilities.’

Andrew Lansley, then Secretary of State  for Health, Second Reading of the Health and Social Care Bill, 31st January 2011
‘Cancer networks are here to stay and their budget  has been protected. They are extremely important’

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, Health Questions, 27th November 2012.

The budget through which the clinical networks are funded is increasing (… ) those clinical networks are extremely important and will continue.’

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, debate on the NHS Commissioning Board Mandate, 13th November 2012.

Labour has repeatedly warned about reductions to clinical networks and how such cuts might harm the crucial work that these networks do:

Liz Kendall: “Funding [for clinical networks] 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.” (…) 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.”

Paul Burstow MP: “(…) 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.
Westminster Hall debate on cancer treatments, 19th June 2012

Liz Kendall: “Cancer networks have played a crucial role in improving patient care, including by earlier diagnosis. The former Health Secretary promised this House that their funding would be guaranteed in 2011, but the South East London Cancer Network now says its budget was cut by 40% between 2009 and 2011. This year, it has been slashed by a further 55% and its staff have been cut from 15 to eight. Will the Minister now admit that her Government have cut funding for vital front-­‐line cancer experts and have broken their explicit promises on cancer care?”

Anna Soubry: ” My information is that any 40% reduction is a result of cuts in administration—and that, if I may say so, seems the right way to go about things. This Government are determined to make sure that when we make cuts of that nature, they are not actually cuts.”
Health Questions, 23rd October 2012

Liz Kendall: “The reality is that the Government are ripping away the foundations of better cancer care. The former Health Secretary made a clear promise from the Dispatch Box to protect cancer network funding, but the NHS South East London and Greater Midlands cancer networks both say that their budgets and staff have been slashed. The NHS medical director, Sir Bruce Keogh, says that cancer networks are an NHS success story, and Macmillan Cancer Support says it is nonsensical to cut their specialist expertise. Why do the Government not agree?”

Jeremy Hunt: “Cancer networks are here to stay and their budget has been protected.”

Health Questions, 27th November 2012

NETWORKS REPORT ‐ Impact of budget cuts

‘A network chemotherapy nurse post was not replaced due to the future uncertainty of the networks.’
Arden Cancer Network

‘We lost our stroke education and training lead and as a result have not run the enormous number of training sessions covering care homes, enablement, community and acute trust rehabilitation service that we have previously organised, supported and delivered.’
Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Heart and Stroke Network

‘From  April 2013 budgets and staffing will be cut further and this will mean that we will be able to achieve less than we have previously.’
Merseyside and Cheshire Heart and Stroke Network

‘There has been reduced clinical training in the Stroke work stream …. the lower funding has meant a reduction in the number  of work streams that are priorities. In addition we were asked to cover two additional work streams – complex vascular surgery and interventional radiology’
North East London Cardiac and Stroke Network

‘In the new structures the network will be unable to provide the wide range of training and educational programmes we offered in previous years and our ability to continue to offer this support in terms of training/education and service improvement support will be greatly reduced in 2013/14.’
Greater Manchester Heart and Stroke Network

‘(…) we have had to decline the offer of £150,000 from Macmillan to support a Survivorship programme as this would have required commitments into 2013/14, which we were not in a position to make. Other support has stopped due to the transition of the NHS.’
Peninsula Cancer Network.

‘…. a reduction is anticipated in 2013/14 in the following functions: training and education; patient and public involvement; Information support; service improvement’
North of England Cardiovascular Network

‘….posts have been removed from the structure as a result of requirements to make savings.. The new structure does not have enough posts for current staff. We are all in a redeployment pool. We have been told that we should know by the 31st December as to whether or not we have a post from 31st March. With no presence in Essex from 1.4.13 for the network current skill set from current staff will be lost.’

Essex Cancer Network

‘Please also note that central project funding in previous years for stroke enabled us to support more projects than we are currently able to.’
South London Heart and Stroke Network

‘This smaller team will also be expected to cover a much larger foot print to include Lancashire and South Cumbria.’
Greater Manchester Heart and Stroke Network

‘….we clearly have rather less capacity overall for all our areas of work.’
Coventry and Warwickshire Cancer Network

NETWORKS REPORT -­‐ Uncertainty about future

‘Uncertainty and transition has resulted in Network reducing the number of new projects and initiatives reducing the size in line with available support.’
South East London Cancer network

‘….a great many [staff] have left and I have not replaced them for financial reasons and also because of uncertainty.’
South West London Cancer Network

‘….some Network staff may ultimately be made redundant as a result of transition to new organisational structures. Details cannot be confirmed at this stage’
Central South Coast Cancer  Network

‘No there will be no Essex Cardiac and Stroke Network. Networks will sit within a senate. There will be a very small support team for senates and networks under the East Anglia Local Area Team, covering the whole of the East of England and more areas. Numbers of staff are not yet clear…. Working locally with stakeholders has been key to the networks success. There is no clear direction on who will undertake the Networks work forward within Essex when it ceases at the end of March 2013.’
Essex Cardiac and Stroke Network

‘The exact operational format has not yet been released to us, but it will not be as it is now’
Surrey Heart and Stroke Network

‘The process for transferring the functions of the Network (including work responsibilities and staff) has yet to be determined.’
South London Heart and Stroke Network

“It is unclear at this point whether or not there will be an outpost in the Beds, Herts and Milton Keynes region anywhere.‘
Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Heart and Stroke Network

‘The exact format of these new structures is being developed at present, and the final architecture is due to be released in the coming weeks.’
Black Country Cardiovascular Network

‘Details of new structures and supporting arrangements have yet to be finalised.’
Coventry and Warwickshire Cardiovascular Network

‘Cardiac and stroke will be incorporated in the Cardiovascular Disease Strategic Clinical Network which will also incorporate diabetes and  some renal. The design of the Strategic Clinical Network is still in development and it has yet to be established if there will be a local office base within the Peninsula.’
Peninsula Heart and Stroke Network

‘…. The final format is still to be confirmed for the area….’
Sussex Heart Network

‘The details of how this is to be organised and what arrangements will be put in place underneath this  [The Clinical Network] specifically for West Yorkshire are currently under discussion’
West Yorkshire Cardiovascular Network

‘There are indications that there may be a support team based on the current LSCCN footprint which could continue some of the current cancer work streams – although there is a lack of clarity regarding what these might be.’
Lancashire and South Cumbria Cancer Network

‘Detailed arrangements for the future of the Yorkshire Cancer Network in the financial year 2013/14 remain unclear.’
Yorkshire Cancer Network


• Clinical Networks are teams of experts who help GPs and hospitals to deliver the best outcomes for cancer, heart disease and stroke patients.
• The previous Labour Government established Cancer Networks in the 2000 Cancer Plan and Cardiac Networks in the 2007 National Stroke Strategy to drive up the quality of clinical services delivered to cancer and stroke patients and improve patients’ experience of care.
• Clinical Networks employ both clinical specialists (doctors and nurses) and project managers to put in place a range of programmes to improve cancer and cardiac care.
• Networks have played a vital role in reducing waiting times, such as the crucial maximum 2-­‐week wait between a referral and first appointment at hospital for suspected cancer. For example one cancer network worked to reduce chest x-­‐ray waiting times from an average of 15 to just 3 days
• Networks help avoid unnecessary emergency admissions, reduce the length of time patients need to stay in hospitals, and speed up patients’
recovery for example by informing the patient of the correct dietary requirements or giving them information and exercises to perform after leaving hospital.
• Networks provide information and support to patients on how to deal with their disease during and after their treatment, for example through organising cancer survivor networks. They also work with NHS staff to deliver specialist training and educational programmes, for example on increasing awareness of symptoms to improve early diagnosis, on the best new drugs and treatments, and on how to manage the side effects of cancer treatment and support patients’ recovery.
• Networks also do important work on prevention, for example Cancer Networks have worked to increase breast cancer screening uptake, whilst  heart and stroke networks have worked to identify those at high risk of heart disease in local communities.


Cancer, heart disease and strokes are Britain’s biggest killers, accounting for over 300,000 deaths each year – 6 in 10 of all deaths in the UK. Under the last Labour Government significant improvements were made in the treatment of heart, stroke and cancer patients. Mortality as a result of stroke and heart disease fell by over 50%, and cancer by 16%,  during the 13 years Labour was in government. (House of Commons calculations based on NHS Information Centre Indicator Portal data, December 2012).  Five year survival rates for nearly all types of cancer improved.

The incidence of stroke fell by 29% between 1999 and 2008 and survivors’ chances of recovering without having a major disability increased.

Local clinical leadership, including from Cancer and Heart and Stroke Networks, has played a vital role in making these improvements. Their work is crucial to making further progress patients need in the years ahead.

Clinical networks, both formal and informal, are an NHS success story… For more than 10  years’ we have seen improvements brought about by networks. Combining the experience of clinicians, the input of patients and the organisational vision of NHS staff, they have supported and improved the way we deliver care in distinct areas by enhancing integration across primary, secondary and often tertiary care.
Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS Medical Director, 9th Aug 2012

“I value very highly the important work currently being done by cancer and cardiovascular networks which enable doctors and nurses to share insight and advice for patient treatment”
Prof Mike Richards, the government’s former cancer tsar who is now the NHS Commissioning Board’s director for reducing premature mortality, 16th Oct 2012

“Heart and stroke networks do very important work. They have made a huge contribution to the NHS. (…) I’m very concerned about the current plans. It would be a tragedy if we started losing things we have  already gained.”
Prof Tony Rudd, the NHS’s stroke director for London, 4th Oct 201213

“Cancer networks provide a valuable service to patients. Their expertise provides support where necessary. This allows clinicians to spend more of their time on what is most important – their patient. It is essential that this expertise is retained within the NHS, yet we risk losing it.”
John Baron MP, chair of the All-­‐Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer, 4th Oct 201214

‘Cancer networks have played a central role in driving up the quality of cancer services and ensuring that patients get the care that  they deserve’
Mike Hobday, Director of Policy and Research at Macmillan Cancer Support, 26th Jul 2012

‘The opportunity to improve outcomes for cancer patients is clear, and cancer networks, established as strategic clinical networks, can and should play a significant role in helping to achieve the Government’s ambition of saving 5,000 lives every year. However, there is a danger that the progress that has  been made in improving cancer outcomes and mortality in recent years could be threatened by the uncertainty in the structures of the new NHS.’
Cancer Campaigning Group, “Developing excellence in cancer networks”, February 2012