Cancer care in England has lost momentum, say MPs

Living with cancer

The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase from 1.7 million in 2010 to 2 million by 2020 and as more people are living with cancer, a greater number of people are taking on caring responsibilities.  The chances are then that all of us will have some experience of cancer at some point in our lives, be it through direct personal experience or through the experiences of those close to us.  That’s why a recent report published by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee suggesting that there is insufficient progress in improving cancer services is extremely worrying.  According to this report, NHS resources available to support improvement have reduced, leading to a loss of momentum in the effort to improve cancer services.

It is well recognised that a diagnosis of cancer can be as overwhelming for those close to the patient as it is for the patient themselves.  As a researcher interested in the experience and management of illness from the perspective of both the patient and those close to them, my particular concern with this report is the impact that a failure to improve services has on both those with cancer and their families.  For example, the NHS’s failure to meet waiting time targets has obvious implications for diagnosis and effective treatment – but it also means that patients and their families are suffering additional anxiety and uncertainty at what is already a difficult and stressful time.

A real problem for patients and their families faced with cancer is when services fail to work together and collaborate effectively.  A cancer diagnosis can have an impact on numerous aspects of life including family and work.  The needs of cancer patients and their families include medical, psychological, social, spiritual, financial and informational needs.  To deliver the best treatment and care, there needs to be joined up services across the whole patient journey.  There are wide variations in the performance of cancer services and the delivery of treatment across the country, and here in Yorkshire we have higher incidence rates than other parts of the country for many of the most common cancers.  In research I’ve carried out with Professor Nigel King and others here at the University, cancer patients and their families told us they experienced more difficulty accessing the right services at the right time if they lived at the edge of organisational and geographic boundaries.

However, it’s not just in relation to cancer that there should be a ‘joined up’ patient journey which acknowledges the far-reaching effects of illness on both patients and those close to them.  In fact, many working in this field would argue that cancer patients get a far better deal in this respect than those with other conditions, and even for those with cancer, there is still inequity of services across the range of different cancer types.  With an ageing population and increasing rates of cancer and other long-term conditions, it is clear that more investment and better planning are needed to ensure that services have sufficient time and resources available to treat the person and not just the disease.  Acknowledging the role of family members could also allow overstretched professionals and services to usefully draw on their experience and expertise – supporting them to effectively support patients with potential benefits for all parties involved.

Read the full story on the BBC News website.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>