In January 2015 NHS England announced the creation of a new, independent taskforce to develop a five-year action plan for cancer services with the aim of improving survival rates and saving thousands of more lives a year.
The taskforce has been asked to deliver the vision set out in the NHS Five Year Forward View, which calls for action on three fronts: better prevention; swifter diagnosis; and better treatment, care and aftercare for all those diagnosed with cancer. It has been set up in partnership with the cancer community and other health system leaders, and is chaired by the Chief Executive of Cancer Research UK Harpal Kumar.
To inform the creation of a new cancer strategy for England, the taskforce asked for written submissions from interested parties in response to the following questions:
- The commitment that you would like to see in a new cancer strategy that would significantly improve cancer services;
- Examples of good practice in cancer services that you would like to see replicated across the country;
- The biggest barrier to improving cancer services.
We were delighted to respond to the taskforce, and ensured our response was driven by the evidence we have identified whilst undertaking our Prioritising Patient Need project - the UK’s biggest research project into the needs of blood cancer patients.
While there are many areas of need we want to see addressed in order to help us achieve our mission of beating blood cancers, we chose to focus our response on the following themes:
A commitment to developing effective post treatment care for patients
From our patient need project it is clear that access to appropriate emotional support after treatment is one of the most significant areas of unmet need.
We know that many patients feel that after initial treatment, the level of support available to them falls away. While they will continue to receive regular check-ups with health professionals to manage their medical needs, the emotional and psychological element of care is often missing.
This type of support is particularly important for blood cancer patients, as for many they will not have their cancer cured during treatment but will live with their cancer for several years.
There have been some positive responses about aftercare packages (such as the Cancer Recovery Package) from patients who have been successfully treated for solid tumour cancers. However, given take up of this package has been very low from blood cancer patients, further consideration should be given as to how this package could be adapted for chronic patients managing their cancer as a long term condition.
The importance of a named professional with responsibility for a patient’s overall care package
Our research has also shown us that examples of best practice in post treatment care for blood cancer patients are commonly linked to the presence of a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS).
Having understood the specific needs of each patient, the CNS can help co-ordinate an appropriate and personalised care package which includes any elements of support and care that are required, as well as any emotional services they may require as a patient living with cancer.
Improving awareness and understanding around blood cancer
Finally, in order for services to improve the lack of awareness and understanding around blood cancers needs to be addressed.
Our research has shown us that low levels of awareness are present among:
- The general public - who often know little about blood cancers, the related symptoms and how to best describe these conditions;
- Patients - whose lack of awareness prior to diagnosis can mean they don’t fully understand the nature of the disease, the treatment or long term implications;
- And in primary and secondary care settings – resulting in a relatively high number of blood cancer patients being diagnosed in A&E compared to other cancers.
Blood cancer is a complex area, including over 100 different diseases. But combined, blood cancers are the third biggest cancer killers, and greater awareness and understanding of them will be essential if we are to beat them.
The Taskforce will produce a statement of intent this month, and the new strategy will be published in summer 2015. We’ll be updating our supporters throughout this process and will continue to play a role in the strategy’s development, acting as a voice for blood cancer patients.