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NHS to pay for private cancer care

The NHS will have to pay for private sector cancer treatment if it cannot ensure a specialist appointment within two weeks, according to new government policy.

However, since nearly all NHS trusts in England already meet that deadline, the measure is only expected to affect a few hundred patients.

Nevertheless, because prime minister, Gordon Brown, previously fought against less drastic Blairite reforms, the principle of private sector involvement is seen as a major change.

This latest initiative is contained in Mr Brown's policy document, Building Britain's Future, an attempt to get back on the front foot after recent damaging leadership speculation and dire poll results.

The two-week target was first introduced for breast cancer in 1999, and extended in 2000. But, while prospects have improved, five-year UK survival rates are still below the European average.

Now, if a primary care trust (PCT) cannot guarantee a specialist appointment within two weeks of referral from a GP, it will have to provide equivalent funding for a private consultation.

It is similar to the "Patient's Passport" policy dropped by the Tories after the last general election.

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