In Europe, Cancer survival rates improve, whilst all our politicians can do is talk

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Britain Against Cancer, an initiative of the  All-Parliamentary Group on Cancer,  has become an annual event at
Westminster.  For the last ten years it has successfully brought together patients, health professionals and
policy-makers to look at the impact of public policy on cancer services and research. This year Andy Burnham, Secretary of State for Health, was answering questions.

It seems sad when a major charity such as Macmillan has to ‘pussy-foot’ around politicians, but Ciaran Devane, Chief Executive at Macmillan Cancer Support, had to play the political card at the All-Parliamentary Group against Cancer’s annual Britain Against Cancer Conference, when he chaired the session on Survivorship.

Expecting a hard-hitting session with plenty of ideas of how to take a survivorship programme forward,a  packed room was eager to discuss this very important topic, particularly in the light of that morning’s front page article in the Daily  Telegraph.  Devoting half the front page to this topic, the Telegraph highlighted poor cancer survivorship outcomes in Britain, compared with Europe.

So the Survivorship session promised to be THE most interesting and important session of the day (given an airing at the morning and afternoon sessions).  But what we got was a rehash of all the points that have been discussed and discussed over the past years – no ACTION!  One gets the impression that there is no urgency amongst politicians; everyone waiting for the outcome of the next election, instead of getting on with it.  Eeven though our post-cancer survivor rates are consistently at the bottom of the pile,  the report isn’t scheduled to come out until 2012, and 2012 is when we are getting it – not a moment earlier.

Hand-outs repeated that “Assessment and care planning needs to be an active partnership between professionals, patients and carers”.  Is it rocket science to get some people around a table to discuss how this could be implemented, so that those undergoing treatment today start to see benefits, or is everyone expected to wait with baited breath for three years?

We were shown a Conceptual Framework of Health Related Quality of Life – whatever that means (hasn’t anyone heard of the Crystal clear English awards?).  The actual form seems a good start, but now those in the room wanted to get on with using this – seeing if it works – and tweaking.

Patients will be given a form to fill in highlighting practical problems/family problems/spiritual concerns/physical problems – which presumably we fill out and give to our GP.  But will the GP know what to do with this?  And will filling out the form produce any result for us?  I wonder.  If you are about to leave the tender mercies of hospital, you might ask for an End of Initial Treatment Record Summary Letter – which gives your GP an overview of your treatment, and where actions are needed.

But will GPs read these?  Or will the forms get overlooked if they don’t get QOFs for doing so?

What fills me with gloom is the statement on one of the forms, that this will be then be “out out to tender for pilot sites to test assessment framework”.  Gerry Robinson/Florence Nightingale/Matron – come back.  All is forgiven.  We need you to get something moving.  In this day of instant communication, why does it take so long to discuss and implement any new ideas?

As one of the delegates said, ” None of my questions got answered. I asked Norman Lamb why there is a lack of BME representation at senior level.  No response.

I asked a question on survivorship, which didn’t get answered. Great

When the conference gathered together so many articulate and intelligent cancer survivors, researchers and medics – one wonders why, in the immortal words of Winston Churchill, it was “all jaw jaw”.

There was a positive side to the conference, as there always is when you get an articulate group together under one roof.  Andy Burnham was asked about QOFs (Quality Outcomes Frameworks) and why cancer patients were given such unequal treatment by GPs in comparison with diabetes, asthma etc.  Rashly, in view of the forthcoming election, he promised that cancer services “will be up to international standards by 2012”.  Well, he could make that promise, knowing that politicians take no notice of what predecessors say in office.

In Q & A Burnham expressed his frustration, on behalf of a family member, of “navigating the breast cancer system”.  He was asked about Lymphoedema services, and he expressed an interest – so contact him!  There was also talk about the evils of alcohol, after smoking had been knocked on the head, so expect large labels and more taxes.

Ian Gibson drew applause when asked “is NICE fit for purpose?” and as Burnham left the platform, he did say “hospital services are going to need to change”.

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