How can the NHS deliver better care for cancer patients while using existing resources more effectively? This was one of the key questions explored at the 2018 Britain Against Cancer (BAC) conference which was held in December 2018. The BAC conference is an opportunity for healthcare staff, policy-makers and academics passionate about tackling cancer to come together and discuss the most important issues facing the NHS and patients in the context of the NHS England National Cancer Strategy.[i]
The fundamental aim of the All.Can initiative is to encourage cancer services to focus on what matters to patients. To further this aim, All.Can has been conducting an international survey to explore patients’ experiences of cancer care, and the UK is the first country to have results available. We presented these to a packed room of delegates at the BAC conference, helping to shape discussions on how care can be improved to best meet the individual needs of patients.
As delegates heard at BAC, the results are important as they provide unique insights into where advancements can be made to drive more patient-focused cancer care, improve outcomes and make better use of existing resources. The results also point to a number of areas that should be improved if patients’ experiences of cancer care in the NHS are to be the best they can be.
Diagnosis is a clear area of focus for the NHS and Government, and there’s little doubt that an early diagnosis can make a big difference to a patient’s health outcome.[i] Currently the ambition is for a cancer diagnosis to be made within a month,[i] but the All.Can survey found that less than half (47%) of respondents received a cancer diagnosis within this time, and more than one in five (21%) people had to wait over six months to be told they had cancer.[ii] Worryingly, two in five (40%) people were told that their cancer was something different, either initially or on multiple occasions as they navigated the healthcare system.[ii]
The impact of a cancer diagnosis on a patient should not be underestimated. It’s a life-changing moment not just for the patient, but also for their family and friends, all of whom need accessible and reliable information and support throughout the care pathway. It can be a worrying, uncertain and confusing time, but we believe that patient groups and other organisations can play a vital role to provide support and guidance. It’s therefore a concern that two out of five people (40%) did not receive any information about patient groups, charities or other organisations that could provide support or help.[ii] In my role at the Patients Association, I see first-hand the advice, support services and complementary therapies that patient groups and other charities provide for patients and their families, at no cost to the NHS. Ensuring better ways of working between NHS England and patient groups is a priority for All.Can UK and we will be looking to drive activity in this area in 2019.
The survey results also demonstrate the financial and social burden that cancer places on patients. One in eight people (12%) elected to pay for treatment or care themselves, either because it was not available on the NHS or to avoid unacceptable delays.[ii] Around two in five people (39%) had appointments cancelled by the centre managing their care [ii] – this has a significant impact on patients, who have to plan their day, and those of others, around their appointments. Given the psychological impact of cancer on patients and their families, the NHS needs to do much more to give people certainty and continuity of care – and these two areas in particular should be addressed as a matter of urgency.
The ambition of NHS England’s Cancer Strategy is to deliver world class outcomes for people with cancer by 2020 and many of the discussions at BAC focused on how this could be delivered.[i] As an independent patient charity working with organisations across the health sector, the Patients Association believes that third parties have an important role to play in improving patient care, and that this new research from All.Can provides important insights into how care can be made more efficient – and effective – for patients across the country.
All.Can UK was initiated by Bristol-Myers Squibb, who fully fund the programme, and is open to other industry partners. All.Can is a multi-stakeholder initiative involving patient, clinical, academic and industry experts as well as policymakers. Internationally, the All.Can initiative is made possible with financial support from Bristol-Myers Squibb (main sponsor), Amgen, MSD and Johnson & Johnson (sponsors) and Varian (contributor), with additional non-financial (in kind) support from Intacare and GoingsOn.
You can find out more about the international All.Can initiative at www.all-can.org.
About the Patients Association
The Patients Association is a leading national charity dedicated to supporting the rights and interests of all patients and their families. It is one of the oldest and most distinctive health and care charities in the UK and covers all issues that affect patients. Members of the public can contact their free and confidential helpline for information on all parts of the health and social care service.
You can find out more about the Patients Association and its work here.
[i] NHS England (2016), Achieving World-Class Cancer Outcomes: Taking the strategy forward. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/cancer-strategy.pdf Last accessed: December 2018.
[ii] All.Can Patient Survey: UK findings
Job number: ONCUK1801390-08
Date of preparation: December 2018