Tuesday, 21 August 2012

There is still good news to be found about the NHS...

….You just need to look in the right place.

A close friend of mine, I’ll call her Jane, is currently undergoing treatment for cancer. She’s had a tough time of it – with chemotherapy, radiotherapy, surgery and now another course of chemo. Jane’s prognosis is excellent and she has approached the past year with remarkable pragmatism and calm.  I commented on her bravery and she said, ‘well I get a bit worried before some new treatment, but when I’m at the hospital – there’s no need to be frightened – after all, the doctors and nurses know what they are doing so I don’t have to be scared’.  A simple view but what a precious aid to recovery this confidence must bring. I am very familiar with the unit where Jane is being treated and it is a fantastic collaboration between the charity, Cancer Research UK and an NHS trust. A powerful mix of personally tailored treatment regimes, focussed care, innovation and even carefully controlled experimentation are all designed to give each patient the very best chance of survival or extended life expectancy.

The reason I know the unit well because my late husband Bob was treated there for several years.  Although he suffered from an incurable cancer, he took part in four clinical trials with the equally important aim of helping others and staying with his loved ones for longer. I shall never forget the kindness and professionalism of the Oncologist who looked Bob straight in the eye, without a hint of pity but with plenty of determination and said ‘we will do everything we can to keep you as well as possible, for as long as possible’. You can’t ask for more than that can you?

But back to the good news. The results from a recent National Cancer Patient Experience Survey have just been published by the Department of Health. Cancer Research UK welcomes this survey as a useful barometer of patient views and the results are encouraging. Questioned about treatment choices, information, and access to specialists, 88% cancer patients rated their overall care as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ and 98 Health Trusts improved their scores over last year.

I’ll say that again 88% of cancer patients surveyed rated their overall care as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. How come this doesn’t make a headline in the UK press?

Cancer Research UK states that the two key issues of greatest concern are research and early diagnosis. 20% of cancer patients surveyed were taking part in some sort of research study so the good news goes on, but the weak link in the chain is early diagnosis. The survey results show that nearly half of the patients still see their GP several times before seeing a specialist and 1 in 5 ends up at a hospital without even seeing their family doctor first.

I dearly hope that new commissioning practices as outlined in The Health and Social Care Bill will encourage GP commissioners to reduce the time lag between first presentation of a patient with potential cancer diagnosis at a GP practice to onward referral. Sadly I’m not convinced that this is the case. But in the meantime, let us celebrate the good news that this survey provides and give thanks that Jane’s confidence is well founded.


Rob Dickman said...

Of course, cancer services in recent years have benefited from a National Cancer Plan, an effective cancer "tzar" and accompanying dedicated resource, so I'm fairly confident that the good results we are seeing now are not a coincidence.

But when one particular sector benefits, others lose out. While cancer services have been "flavour of the month" for some time, areas like CAMHS and children's services in general receive much less attention. Plus, across the service, we see much more in the way of rationing and non-availability of routine treatments.

Is the balance right?

You've also pointed to the real area of weakness - GP services. Once the flagship NHS service, standards are nowadays very patchy and referral rates to secondary care are very inconsistent.

Like you, I hope the new system architecture works but we are entering unchartered waters....

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