Following on from Duleep Allirajah’s blog on the Cancer Strategy, we’re going to be publishing a series of posts looking in more detail at our priorities. This week, we’ll be looking at how to improve care for people living with and beyond cancer.
Half of people who are diagnosed with cancer will now survive for at least 10 years after their diagnosis. This is, undoubtedly, a huge cause for celebration. But it is not the full story.
There is a common belief that people with cancer either pass away from the condition or are cured and enjoy a good quality of life. But while it is sadly true that many people still die from cancer, we also need to acknowledge for many others the end of treatment does not mean the end of ill health. Numerous needs can arise from the physical, emotional, practical and financial impact of cancer: 53% of people living with cancer have one or more moderate or severe unmet needs, such as depression, anxiety or tiredness, six months after the end of treatment and 1 in 4 people face poor long-term health or disability.
Many of these needs could be tackled with the right follow-up care and treatment – but this is not available. Four in 10 (41%) cancer patients say they are not given all the support from health and social services they needed after leaving hospital and 78% are not offered a care plan. What’s more, failing to provide support for people with cancer doesn’t just impact the individual, it has consequences for the health service. People living with the consequences of cancer and its treatment are more likely to re-enter the health service, often requiring further treatment. But despite the evidence that improving the care for people living with cancer would have cost-saving benefits, there is still much more to be done to address the problems.
This could be about to change. Achieving World Class Cancer Outcomes: A Strategy for England 2015-2020, the hugely ambitious report published by the independent Cancer Taskforce last month, is seeking to improve quality of life for people living with and beyond cancer. This could be a watershed in the treatment of cancer. We hope that it will enable all people with cancer to access the support and care they need, and in turn reduce strain on the stretched health service.
So what does the report propose? One of its most radical recommendations is the introduction of a quality of life metric. This means not just measuring and holding CCGs to account for how long their patients survive cancer, but also how well they are living. It also recommends that all patients should have access to the cancer Recovery Package, designed to help people get back on their feet after treatment, and sorting patients into different follow up pathways based on needs.
This is a blueprint for improving the experiences and outcomes of people with cancer, but much more work is needed to turn these plans into a reality. The Strategy recognises this. It recommends a new living with and beyond cancer programme, led by the NHS and partners. This is really exciting, and we think a well resourced, fully funded 5 year programme will be crucial in transforming care.
Helping people to live well during and after treatment for cancer is something the NHS has struggled with for decades, but the new Cancer Strategy gives us an opportunity to change this. This is a huge ambition, and will require strong leadership and support from the health service.
We will be continuing to blog about implementing the strategy – check back soon for more thoughts on how our priorities can become reality.
 Cancer Research UK. One-, five- and ten-year survival for all cancers combined http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/health-professional/cancer-statistics/survival/all-cancers-combined#heading-Zero
 Armes J, Crowe M, Colbourne L, Morgan H, Murrells T, Oakley C, Palmer N, Ream E, Young A, and Richardson A. 2009. Patients’ supportive care needs beyond the end of treatment: A prospective, longitudinal survey. Journal of Clinical Oncology 27:36 6172-http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/AboutUs/Newsroom/Consequences_of_Treatment_June2013.pdf
 Macmillan Cancer Support. Cured – but at what cost? Long-term consequences of cancer and its treatment. July 2013. http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Documents/AboutUs/Newsroom/Consequences_of_Treatment_June2013.pdf
 NHS England/Quality Health. National Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2014. September 2014. https://www.quality-health.co.uk/resources/surveys/national-cancer-experience-survey/2014-national-cancer-patient-experience-survey/2014-national-cancer-patient-experience-survey-national-reports/688-2013-national-cancer-patient-experience-survey-national-report-pdf/file.