This is a time of unprecedented advances in our ability to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer, and it is our responsibility to embed proven new treatments and tests in routine healthcare as quickly and equitably as possible. To this end, we have established Cancer Alliances across the country, bringing together clinical leaders and teams to transform diagnosis and treatment in their local areas. We are investing £130m in technology and equipment to ensure all patients have access to the latest radiotherapy and £200m to accelerate the rapid diagnosis and assessment of patients and to enhance their quality of life.

However, patients will not reap the benefits of these new developments unless we have sufficient staff with the right skills and support to deliver them. For example, it is fantastic that we are about to roll out a new screening test for bowel cancer that will allow us to detect and treat this disease at an earlier stage, but it will require the time and expertise of histopathologists to diagnose the anticipated increase in samples; endoscopists and radiologists to carry out further investigations where necessary and oncologists, surgeons and nurses to provide care and treatment for people who receive a diagnosis of cancer. A workforce plan is, in effect, the delivery plan for the NHS.

This first phase report focusses on the actions needed to ensure we have enough staff with the right skills to deliver the funded activity set out in the Cancer Taskforce Strategy by 2021. This is not just about increasing numbers, but supporting our staff to develop new skills and enabling them to work differently. In addition to the steps we’ve already taken to increase the number of clinical radiologists and create new roles such as clinical endoscopists, this report sets out a number of ‘pragmatic steps’ to increase net supply and support new ways of working in the key professions highlighted in the Cancer Taskforce report. Whilst there is no new money over and above what was set out in the Spending Review of 2016, Health Education England (HEE) has reprioritised its budget and internal resources to support delivery of the Cancer Taskforce recommendations and Cancer Alliances are investing some of their transformation funds in their local workforce to deliver improvements for patients.

Whilst HEE is ultimately responsible for developing the Cancer Workforce Plan for England, it does not hold all of the levers. Success will require the Department of Health to continue efforts to ensure that contracts, pay and pension arrangements enable the NHS to become ‘the employer of choice’, so that employers can offer more flexible and rewarding jobs, and for Royal Colleges and regulators to work with us to identify and remove the barriers to more flexible training and careers

If workforce remains an afterthought once the key policy and funding decisions have been made, or if ‘demand’ continues to be determined by affordability rather than forecast activity, then the gap between what is technologically possible, what is on offer to all patients and what is a sustainable workload can only grow. HEE will therefore publish a longer-term workforce strategy beyond 2021 in the summer, taking forecast activity and the needs of future patients as its starting point. We will work with Cancer Alliances and other partners to identify the workforce impact of future service models and the actions and investment required to secure the benefits of innovation for all.