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Blood cancer patients feel ‘let down’ by NHS

Government’s cancer strategy failing to deliver for them, say cross-party MPs

Caroline White

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

People with blood cancer are getting a raw deal from the NHS, with the government’s cancer strategy failing to address their needs adequately, concludes the first report* published today by the All Parliamentary Group on Blood Cancer (APPGBC).

 
GPs need to be more alert to the possibility of the disease and request blood tests more often, says the report.
 
An estimated 240,000 people are living with blood cancer in the UK today. It is Britain’s fifth most common cancer and third biggest cancer killer, claiming more lives each year than breast or prostate cancer.

The APPGBC launched an inquiry last spring 2017 to look at services across the treatment pathway. This included: public awareness and early diagnosis; the patient experience; living with and beyond blood cancer; access to new medicines and support for research; and NHS commissioning.
 
The inquiry's report concluded that the government’s 2015 Cancer Strategy is not doing enough to support blood cancer patients and that patients feel let down as a result.
 
Because the symptoms of blood cancer symptoms can be so vague, with patients often reporting general fatigue, night sweats, weight loss, or bruising, all of which can be mistaken for other, less serious conditions such as being run down or flu, they often end up visiting their GP significantly more than other cancer patients before they get a specialist referral.
 
In many cases the illness isn’t picked up until they are so unwell that they end up needing emergency care, says the report.
 
Delayed diagnosis for some blood cancers can have a major impact on survival and the patient’s quality of life, it points out.
 
The report recommends that GPs should immediately request a blood test for anyone presenting with one or more of these symptoms, which can easily rule out or confirm a diagnosis, says the report.
 
As well as proposing more frequent blood testing, the APPGBC identifies an urgent need for better education and training for doctors and medical students to help them spot blood cancer early on.
 
The public also need to be better informed about blood cancer, says the report, which recommends the government invest in public awareness campaigns.
 
Care is often disjointed, says the report, which calls for better joined up working between primary and secondary health services, and between oncology and haematology teams. Only one in 10 patients is currently assigned a clinical nurse specialist, which needs to be addressed, says the report
 
And it recommends that NHS England ensure that psychological and emotional support is available to patients and families from the point of diagnosis and throughout treatment. This is particularly important for patients put on Watch and Wait treatment programmes who are not given treatment straight away.
 
In the foreword to the report, the Group’s chair, Henry Smith MP, writes: “Our overwhelming finding is that, whilst the Cancer Strategy is a welcome document that makes many important recommendations on improving patient experience and outcomes, the specific needs of blood cancer patients are not being fully met.
 
“The experience of blood cancer patients is different to that of solid tumour cancer patients and so general cancer services are not always effective in meeting their needs.”
 
He continues: “This report makes important recommendations on how to make improvements and ensure that we all work together to raise awareness of blood cancer. It is also a call to the government and NHS to ensure that blood cancers and needs of blood cancer patients are properly addressed.”
* The hidden cancer: the need to improve blood cancer care. A report prepared by All-Party Parliamentary Groupon Blood Cancer, January 2018.

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