With 100 days to go until the general election
Macmillan Cancer Supporthas challenged the main political parties to make cancer a top priority in their manifestos.
The charity has said it is time for MPs to make detailed commitments on improving the experience of patients from diagnosis through to the last days of their lives.
Earlier detection, compassion during treatment and end of life care have all been identified as key areas that require attention to avert a “looming crisis”.
Macmillan’s Interim Chief Executive Lynda Thomas says the main focus should be on making people “feel that they are being treated like a person rather than just a number.”
She would like to see a cross party consensus on plans for cancer treatment given the unpredictability of the UK’s political landscape as polling day approaches.
“We know that the election is going to be very, very close, probably closer than we have ever seen before.
“We have got no idea who will come into power after May 2015 so we need to make sure that all the parties are making these commitments…
“We want to see real political leadership.”
Ms Thomas is confident that parliamentarians have listened so far and is positive about what has already been achieved.
“We have seen the Government and the shadow government committed to improving cancer outcomes, so that they match the best in Europe.
“Labour and the Lib Dems have discussed introducing free social care at the end of life.”
But she adds that “greater ambition” is needed from all the parties going forward.
“It’s time to put your money where your mouth is,” she says.
Ms Thomas is keen to stress that the individuals working in the NHS are there for “all the right reasons and they are brilliant people,” but identifies pressure on the system as the reason that some patients feel that they are treated with a lack of compassion.
In some cases, she says, people receiving care are repeatedly asked their names and their medical history, which can be “frustrating and really difficult”.
“It is one of the things we feel really strongly about, is cancer patients - all patients - need to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Another area of concern raised by Macmillan is the approach to people with terminal cancer and the delivery of end of life care.
The charity would like to see more people given the chance to have a ‘good death,’ which for many is at home.
Ms Thomas admits this is often “difficult to achieve,” but says it is vital for patients and relatives.
“If people want to die at home or die, for example, in a hospice or community setting we really should be supporting people to do that, because nobody wants to die on a corridor in an acute hospital.”
Currently 73% of cancer patients who say they would like to die at home are unable to.
Earlier diagnosis is also something the charity is focused on.
“We have got the lowest one year survival rates for some types of cancer compared with five comparable countries.
“So, we don’t do brilliantly when it comes to one year survival rates and that’s why there is a lot of emphasis now… on early diagnosis so that we can get those numbers up,” Ms Thomas says.
January 26th marks the start of Cancer Talk Week during which this year Macmillan is encouraging people to talk about the General Election and the importance of improving cancer care to encourage all the political parties to agree to making life better for people affected by cancer if they are elected in May.
Ms Thomas says sharing personal stories can play an important role in improving public knowledge of the disease and helping others who are going through treatment.
“There’s no doubt that talking about cancer makes it seem much less scary, especially if people can talk about some of the positive things that have come out of it as well.
“The more people can do that the more it draws attention to the fact that this is a disease that can affect anybody at any time…
“Anything that we can do to get people to take notice of their symptoms and to be more aware of things like that has got to be a good thing.”
MPs have responded favourably to Macmillan's challenge.
Conservative MP and Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Cancer John Baron said: “Spending on the NHS is important, and has increased in this Parliament.
“Most important, however, is that the NHS follows through on its existing cancer initiatives, particularly with regard to one-year cancer survival.
“Ensuring Clinical Commissioning Groups raise their game in this regard could quite literally save thousands of lives each year.
“Now the NHS has the ‘tools in the toolbox’, it must put them to good use.”
Labour’s Nic Dakin said: “Macmillan has a fantastic record working on behalf of cancer patients and their families.
“I welcome Macmillan's manifesto challenge to all us.
“Crucially I believe huge efforts need to be made to improve early diagnosis of all cancers, particularly those like pancreatic cancer where patient outcomes have not improved for 40 years.”