MPs debate blood cancer care and APPG launches new report
On 17 January 2018, 17 MPs took part in a debate about NHS blood cancer care in Westminster Hall. On the same day, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on blood cancer launched its first report The ‘Hidden’ Cancer: the need to improve blood cancer care.
17 January 2018 was a busy day in parliament for the blood cancer community. In the early afternoon, the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Blood Cancer, Henry Smith, MP for Crawley, led a Westminster Hall debate on blood cancer care in the NHS, the first of its kind in a year and a half. This was closely followed by the launch of the APPG’s inaugural report, The ‘Hidden’ Cancer: the need to improve blood cancer care, which took place in the auspicious surroundings of the Strangers’ Dining Room in the House of Commons.
17 MPs took part in the debate, including Steve Brine, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, who has specific responsibility for cancer. The public gallery was also filled with blood cancer patients, their family members, clinicians and representatives from blood cancer charities. MPs discussed many aspects of blood cancer care and where major improvements are needed, including the need to raise awareness among the general public and GPs to ensure those with the often vague symptoms of blood cancer are diagnosed as early as possible. The need for better aftercare following stem cell transplants was also discussed in detail, as was the need for ongoing investment in research to find innovative treatments for blood cancer and better access to new cancer drugs.
Following the debate, the launch event for the report was opened by Henry Smith. The report documents the findings of the group’s first inquiry, which was launched in March 2017 and examined blood cancer care in the NHS. The group reached out to all members of the blood cancer community to try to capture their concerns. Two oral evidence sessions were held with experts in the field and the group received over 150 responses from patients, carers, healthcare professionals, researchers, charities and NHS bodies.
The inquiry focused on five of the priority areas identified in the 2015 Cancer Strategy for England: early diagnosis; improving patient experience; living with and beyond cancer; improving research; and improving NHS commissioning. The report highlights that early screening is commonplace for those with few or no symptoms in other suspected cancers, such as breast cancer, but for those with even several symptoms of blood cancer, multiple visits to the GP are necessary before a diagnosis is made. This is due in part to the vague and commonplace nature of blood cancer symptoms (e.g. fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, bruising, pain) and also to low awareness among the general public and GPs, who may only see one or two blood cancer patients during their entire careers.
The report calls on GPs to undertake a simple blood test for people displaying one or more blood cancer symptom. Other key recommendations in the report are:
Tailored psychological support should be provided to those on ‘watch and wait’ treatment plans, where they have been diagnosed with a slowly progressing blood cancer and treatment is not needed straight away. This is because these patients are placed under unique psychological pressure
All blood cancer patients should benefit from appropriate and tailored aftercare support including a recovery package that takes account of the unique characteristics of blood cancer
Continued government investment in blood cancer research and clinical trials
Better joined-up working between primary and secondary health services and between oncology and haematology teams
Guests at the launch heard compelling speeches from the APPG chair, who spoke of his personal experience of blood cancer, having seen his mother tragically die from acute myeloid leukaemia several years ago, just hours after diagnosis; Dr Kirit Ardeshna, who gave an insightful account of the challenges faced by blood cancer patients from the clinician’s perspective; and Jane Leahy, one of our patient ambassadors, who offered a brave and heartfelt account of living with and beyond blood cancer and emphasised the need for better psychological support for patients and their families.
All in all, it was a great day for raising awareness of blood cancer, the hidden cancer, and ensuring the challenges faced by blood cancer patients are on the political agenda. We will continue to work with the APPG on Blood Cancer to develop and focus on the specific findings in the report in an effort to improve the lives of blood cancer patients.