Mark Tami MP: When it comes to cancer, survival is only the first battle

Posted On: 
22nd November 2018

Cancer can take a huge emotional toll on patients and the stress and turmoil it has on them can drastically affect their mental health for many years after survival. Mark Tami MP says that Government must do a lot more to ensure they actually receive the right psychological support.

When it comes to cancer, survival is paramount. And rightly so. Despite the emphasis on this in the UK, we still lag behind other European countries when it comes to survival rates, and survival rates for certain cancers – such as lung, brain and pancreatic – continue to be extremely low.

As a nation we must try and give every person diagnosed with cancer the best opportunity to survive. It is therefore essential that they have access to new and innovative treatments and that medical professionals can diagnose as early as possible.

However, survival is only the first battle. Cancer can take a huge emotional toll on patients and the stress and turmoil it has on them can drastically affect their mental health and also the mental health of their families for many years after survival.

That is why it is essential that psychological support is offered to patients after treatment. We should not just be offering psychological support to those who we know have mental health issues, it should be given to cancer patients across the board. The fear of cancer returning can be particularly difficult to manage and will affect almost all patients.

It’s important to remember how strenuous it can be for family members, many of whom will become their loved one’s carer, and could in some cases become the family’s main breadwinner. Family members will often feel like they have to put on a brave face and somehow don’t deserve help because they’re not the ones who are ill.

Some patients and their families will be able to put it behind them straight away once getting the all clear, and will continue with their lives as usual. However, for many this just isn’t possible and that is what I will use this debate to highlight.

It is well documented that patients and those close to them are not getting the psychological support they need; according to the most recent results of the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, only two thirds of patients felt that they were able to discuss their fears or worries.

This should be a major concern for the Government. In many cases, it comes down to workforce. Either there are not enough specialists available who properly understand the consequences of cancer treatment, or the demands on staff time are so great that it is impossible to provide patients with adequate psychological support.

In other cases, the right support exists but patients are not being appropriately signposted. I have heard many cases of patients having to be proactive and find help for themselves.

We are all well aware of the recruitment crisis in the NHS, however the psychological needs of cancer survivors should not be neglected and they certainly should not be let down by poor communication and coordination.

I take some comfort in the fact that the Government have recognised the importance of identifying patients’ needs as they have committed to rolling out a new initiative called The Recovery Package. This however is only one piece of the puzzle and the Government must certainly do a lot more to ensure patients and their families actually receive the right psychological support.