Health Secretary Patricia Hewitt yesterday announced plans for a new Cancer Reform Strategy, one week after The Birmingham Post and Cancer Research UK handed in a 250,000-signature petition to Downing Street calling for a new cancer plan.

She told delegates at the Britain Against Cancer conference in London the new strategy will build on the success of 2000's NHS Cancer Plan but will focus on reform rather than spending.

The news comes after a year of headlines dominated by funding rows over new drugs like breast cancer drug Herceptin.

Mike Richards, the National Cancer Director, will develop the new strategy with doctors, nurses and cancer charities.

Ms Hewitt said: "Having developed the foundations of a world-class cancer service we have to make it self-sustaining. However, this cannot be based on the top-down approach.

"Now cancer specialists, GPs, trusts and primary care trusts need to build on local cancer networks to create flexible and innovative local services.

"I have asked Mike Richards to work with cancer specialists to develop the Cancer Reform Strategy which will see every part of the NHS use established best practice in cancer care to see every patient gets the best care."

Since the Cancer Plan was launched, major progress has been made in tackling cancer but despite more people surviving, the number of new cases in Britain continues to rise.

Professor Alex Markham, chief executive of Cancer Research UK, said: "We're delighted the Government is committed to building on its strategy for cancer. This is vital if we are to prepare for the future challenges of cancer as the number of patients and the cost of treating them will certainly rise.

"The 2000 NHS Cancer Plan has been massively successful in transforming cancer services in England, delivering impressive results in the areas it targeted.

"But as more sophisticated and expensive treatments become available it is essential that the NHS starts planning now for their introduction in the medium term."

Prime Minister Tony Blair, referring to The Birmingham Post's Cancer 2020 petition, said: "We have made huge progress in cancer in the last ten years and reduced significantly the numbers of deaths and improved the speed of treatment and quality of treatment.

"We have listened to the petition from people that want the next stage of the Cancer Plan and Patricia Hewitt is announcing that, which will see even further improvements."