One of Britain’s leading Consultant Oncologists claims that a staggering 10,000 deaths per year are caused by the NHS’s failure to treat cancer patients fast enough and he has drawn up a ten point plan aimed at dramatically improving survival rates.
Cancer specialist Professor Karol Sikora, Dean of the country’s first independent Medical School at the University of Buckingham, says it is a disgrace that Britain has trailed near the bottom of the European Survival League for two decades. He believes his plan would put us at the top.
The ten point plan is a vision of how the NHS could speed up diagnosis and treatment to save lives. Professor Sikora, who is unveiling the ten point plan at a lecture titled Can we do better for Cancer? at the University of Buckingham on 27 January, said: “In spite of a lot of effort straddling decades we still lag behind European league table for cancer survival. The NHS can provide the best cancer care in the world and for some complex cancers such as lymphoma, leukaemia and testicular cancer we are as good as anywhere. But the common cancers – breast, lung, colon and prostate – are the problem resulting in excess deaths equivalent to one jumbo jet crashing every two weeks.”
Only 25% of British cancer patients are referred through the urgent two-week pathway – which means they are seen by a specialist within a fortnight. And 25% come via the UK’s already overstretched A and E service. According to Professor Sikora, “No other Western European country has such a haphazard referral pattern.”
Professor Sikora underlined the need for the importance of early cancer diagnosis to be taught right from the start. The new four and a half year medical degree at the University of Buckingham has a curriculum which radically differs from other universities with an emphasis on Narrative Medicine – students are coached in communicating effectively and sympathetically with patients and learning to recognise serious symptoms through close contact with patients in primary care from day one.
“Carers, patients, GPs, practice nurses and specialists all need to work together seamlessly. Our students will be a breed of knowledgeable and empathic doctors trained from the start in primary care. Our innovative course will take them to the very frontline of the NHS. They will be involved in one of the country’s largest NHS 111 call centres and associated out of hours GP services in East London. These organisations have a vital role in diagnosing cancer early and getting appropriate speedy referral to hospital’ said Professor Sikora.”
He added: “We spend more than £10 billion on cancer each year. We need only 5% of this to implement this plan. It will revolutionise the speed of detection and treatment of cancer in Britain and save lives.”
The ten point plan:
- prevention – 4 out of 10 cancers can be prevented by lifestyle change – public education through media and in schools by the cancer charities
- get patients to seek help earlier – public education – adverts and media about the importance of doing something about persistent and progressive symptoms
- give better access to primary care services – GP’s, NHS 111, walk-in centres. The identification of progressive symptoms – cough, sore throat, weight loss, abdominal pain, pelvic problem will trigger assessment by primary care nurses whose numbers will be strengthened
- allow GPs to request fast track diagnostics within 2 days: ultrasound, CT scans and tests without referral to a consultant
- complete diagnostic pathway including stage (how far the cancer has spread) to be completed within 5 days
- to start first definitive cancer treatment within 14 days – currently the target which is not always achieved is 62 days
- improve availability of precision radiotherapy IMRT and IGRT from 30% to 80% of treatments across the country which regional facilities for more specialist work
- allow oncologists to determine optimal drug combinations at a personal level working from NICE guidelines
- reset lifestyle and address psychosocial issues with ‘living well’ programme during follow up to be offered to all patients
- develop hospice at home networks to build on the success of the hospice movement to allow more people to die at home where at all possible
Professor Pat Price, a cancer specialist and co-editor with Prof Sikora, of the leading textbook for doctors, ‘Treatment of Cancer’, whose sixth edition was released last week, said: “This is a sensible and pragmatic plan which addresses the key reasons we are the poor man of Europe for cancer survival. We need to put politics aside and whoever wins the election needs to implement this strategy immediately.”
Professor Gus Dalgleish, a pioneer in the immunological treatments of cancer and Professor of Oncology at St George’s Hospital Medical School, London, said: “We are at the dawn of an exciting new era of scientific possibilities for greatly improving the treatment of cancer but this back to basics strategy is essential to give the greatest benefit to the largest number. We can definitely do better.”
Greg Simons, Professor of General Practice at the University of Buckingham, said: “Putting the emphasis on earlier diagnosis in primary care and providing fast track routes to diagnostic tests coupled to better patient and carer involvement makes good sense. We have to aim to achieve the best cancer survival figures in Europe.”
Mo Girach, Chief Executive of the Partnership of East London Co-operatives Ltd (PELC) said: “Our 111 and urgent care services can be utilised effectively to diagnose cancer at an earlier stage. We are also planning to give Buckingham students the opportunity to work on the front line of NHS primary care in some of the most deprived parts of Britain.”
Source: University of Buckingham