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NHS ambition must meet cancer care demand

Macmillan Cancer Support

4 min read Partner content

With a thousand people a day being diagnosed with cancer, Dr Fran Woodard of Macmillan Cancer Support questions party conference commitments on the NHS.

The NHS has found itself centre stage of the general election campaign. At Macmillanwe’ve been delighted to see the NHS so far up the political agenda and it’s fair to say not just the NHS, but also cancer care.

We’ve welcomed Andy Burnham’s commitment to introduce free social care for all those with a terminal diagnosis at Labour Party Conference, as well as Ed Miliband’s commitment to deliver cancer outcomes that match the best in Europe in the next 10 years in an interview with the Times last month.

Jeremy Hunt’s announcement in August around a suite of measures to improve early diagnosis and therefore survival rates has been warmly received by us, as has his speech to the Conservative party conference where he hailed the current Government’s work to ensure every patient is treated with dignity and respect.

Finally, the Liberal Democrats also voted in favour of introducing free social care for people on an end of life care register at their party conference.

Macmillan’s research shows that these three issues – free social care at the end of life, improved survival rates and being treated with dignity and respect - are of fundamental importance to people with cancer. In fact, when researching what matters most to people with the disease, to help shape our campaign for the general election, these were the three issues they prioritised.

But despite this positive start, we know this is no time to be complacent.

Our latest research, published today, shows that by the end of 2016 a thousand people a day will be diagnosed with cancer. This means that within just two years around 100 000 more people will be diagnosed with cancer each year compared to 20 years ago. In 1996, 263 000 people were diagnosed with cancer and by 2016 this is predicted to grow to a staggering 361 000. That’s equivalent to the entire population of Cardiff being diagnosed each year.

We already know that by 2020 1 in 2 of us will get cancer in our lifetimes and this is yet more evidence of the frightening magnitude of this disease.

So far our health and social care systems in the UK have failed to grasp the true scale of this challenge. The national health and social care services have been too slow to react to the growing numbers, as well as the dramatic shifts in the nature of cancer. If we don’t take action now, the state of cancer care in the UK will reach a crisis point.

This is why Macmillan Cancer Supportis urging all parties at Westminster to translate the positive words we’ve heard so far into hard manifesto commitments. We need to see that the next government is guaranteed to make real change for people with cancer in the following areas:

1. Delivering cancer survival rates that match the best in Europe;
2. Protecting the dignity of patients, and supporting staff to deliver this;
3. Delivering free social care for people at the end of life, to enable them to spend their final weeks and days in the place of their choice.

Our research shows that improving these areas of care will drastically improve the lives and experiences of people with cancer, and will also help make cancer services run more efficiently.

For example, we’re asking the next government to commit to delivering cancer survival rates that match the best in Europe. These could be improved if people were diagnosed earlier, meaning they have a much better chance of starting treatment before their cancer reaches a life threatening stage. At the moment 1 in 4 people with cancer are diagnosed via an emergency route, for example, in A&E, suggesting that many are diagnosed too late. Those diagnosed this way are on average twice as likely to die within a year than those diagnosed via an urgent GP referral. There are already huge amounts of pressure on A&Es across the country and they are incredibly expensive to run. If we can ensure more people are diagnosed in GP practices this would be cheaper for the NHS, would reduce a burden on A&E and give people a better chance of survival.

With party conference season out of the way and the general election looming ever closer there’s no excuse for politicians of all parties to not be turning their conference speeches on cancer care into concrete commitments in writing. If this can be achieved then their ambition may, just about, match the reality of demand.

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