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Let's beat cancer sooner

A leaked memo to staff at Churchill Hospital in Oxford hit headlines yesterday.

Worryingly, it suggested that chemotherapy treatment could be delayed for cancer patients, and some who are terminally ill may face cuts to their rounds of chemo, due to staff shortages.

The Government was told about severe staff shortages in NHS cancer care and that this was an urgent problem back in 2015. The NHS Cancer Strategy for England that I authored highlighted pressures facing those staff who treat cancer, which prevent some patients being seen quickly and receiving the best possible care and support.

But for too long there has been no progress.

The problem is not new. Workforce planning in the NHS has been shockingly poor for decades, through successive Governments. For three years Cancer Research UK has been urging the Government to tackle cancer staff shortages in the NHS. It’s totally unacceptable that these shortages could now lead to delays in patients getting treatment.

This latest episode at the Churchill Hospital, where chemotherapy may be delayed due to lack of specialist nursing staff, adds to a growing list. Reports of lung cancers being left undiagnosed because of a lack of radiologists emerged late last year, and the Care Quality Commission is now investigating this. We need immediate action from the Government to deal with these problems, otherwise desperate measures, like the one suggested at Oxford, will become more widespread and more severe.

Looking to the future, 150,000 extra people are expected to be diagnosed with cancer annually by 2035. We need more staff in the NHS, with the right training and support, to deal with the increasing number of cancer patients who will be diagnosed and need treatment. For example, our recent report suggests that by 2022 the NHS may only have half the number of specialist cancer doctors needed to deliver the best care, with a potential shortage of between 1,281 – 2,067 staff estimated. In this report, nearly 3 in 4 members of the cancer workforce said that staff shortages were already having a direct impact on their ability to deliver the best treatment for patients.

Health Education England recently published its first ever plan to deal with the staff shortages in cancer care. But it relies heavily on stretched local areas acting and making difficult spending decisions, and will not change the situation overnight.

We have a national ambition to achieve world class cancer outcomes for all patients, of which we are rightly proud. We will not get close to achieving this – and to offering patients the best chance of long term survival – without tackling crippling workforce shortages. This issue will not go away without action and we call on the Government to address these concerns urgently.

Sir Harpal Kumar, Chief Executive, Cancer Research UK

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Email your MP and ask them to find out what their local health teams need to make the new cancer workforce plan a reality.

Comments

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Joan Sullivan February 19, 2018

My husband lost his life due to misdiagnosis even though the test results shown Cancer (admitted since) 2016.

Paul Barrett February 14, 2018

I wanted to share a real life situation from an ex-colleague of mine who is about to receive a stem cell transplant later today at the MD Andersen Cancer Hospital in Houston, Texas. I want to avoid any political discussions here, though like all reasonable folk, recognise the significant shortfall in resources needed to achieve world class cancer outcomes for all patients. I’m advised that MDA is one of the world’s leading centres for cancer treatment; quite probably, a centre that others can aspire to – it has a fine reputation. Sadly there is also huge cost to this treatment, and no one can yet expect a 100% successful outcome. I also lost another friend treated at the same hospital in 2011, and was advised that his two years of treatment ran to seven figures.

Back to today, I have redacted and sanitised the following message which I received earlier from my ex-colleague, who is awaiting his transplant.

First of all, after my 7 rounds of chemo in 2016/17, my AML (Acute Myeloid Leukemia) relapsed back in November, and have been preparing for a stem cell transplant since then.

I went through a couple of weaker rounds of chemo in November, that didn’t stop the relapse, and it continued with a vengeance. Then stronger rounds in December and January have seemed to do the job pretty well. While a few leukemia cells may remain in my bone marrow, there is really nothing there (dead marrow) and therefore can’t even be effectively tested.

Since the strong round of chemo the first week of January, I have pretty much been in the hospital with various unidentified fevers, as my white cell count has been zero since mid December, so I am pretty much a sponge for what ever bug might be floating around. I somehow have avoided Flu and Pneumonia, and really haven’t been that sick, other than the phantom fevers.

Well the fevers have been under control for over a week, and 5 days ago I started the chemo to prep for the stem cell transplant. I finished it today, and have still not had side effects. This round was basically designed to kill what little is left in my bone marrow, and any other immune cells I have floating around in my body. It is critical that my body has no defense system to fight the transplant.

Now to current time:
I will receive the donor stem cells on Valentine’s Day. Because of privacy laws I really know very little about my donor other than he is a 22 year old male that lives somewhere in Europe, and has O+ blood type. He is a 10 of 10 match for the DNA markers they review for compatibility, and the doctors say it’s a good match for less risk of rejection.

I will start anti-rejection drugs tomorrow, and will continue for sometime as they monitor me for the “grafting” – i.e. when the donor stem cells take over my blood building process. I will have his blood type, and his DNA for blood making, skin, hair, etc. I will be a bit of an mutant going forward with DNA of two types. The recovery process will take a while, depending on the initial grafting, I could get out of the hospital in 2-3 weeks. We will probably be in an apartment within a 15 min drive to the MD Anderson Hospital for 2-3 months.

If I do experience GVHD (Graft Versus Host Disease) the effects can be very quick, and rapid response is critical, we will be much safer staying down here. Not to mention for a while I will be coming in every day for checks so it will keep life a little more liveable. After the risk of GVHD has subsided I will still have to be very careful with infections. The doctors describe that I will have the immune system of an infant when complete. I will have to take all my childhood, and vaccinations again, as they will all be gone. So that will be a 2 year process. Depending on progress, the doctors say I could return to work in 4-6 months, and I hope that is an accurate description, as I am really ready to get back to doing something productive aside from fighting leukemia!

My friend has shown tremendous fight and spirit over the past eighteen months, since the AML was diagnosed. It must have been particularly dispiriting when he relapsed, after almost twelve months of chemo. On top of this, his home was flooded out, following Hurricane Harvey, which dropped 52 inches of rain in his home area three days. Bad luck isn’t even the start of it.

I lost my mother last summer during her immunotherapy for melanomas in her liver. She was being treated with new drugs, which sadly, she failed to respond to the therapy. Its for these reasons, that I continue to support Cancer Support UK. I fully support Sir Harpal’s message above, as well as every practicality to prevent cancers.

Joyce parks February 11, 2018

I work in a shop and in the last 2 weeks I have spoke to 2 customers who worked in the nursing profession. One a sister and one a theatre nurse. One has took early retirement and one left to be a prison officer. Both have said that the NHS. is on its lest legs and it is no longer safe and they did not become nurses to work in those conditions. Jeremy hunt has a lot to answer for. Don’t even get me started about the way my partner died and in hospital too.. I actually wrote to him and he is waste of space! Joyceparks63@yahoo.com

Susan Holmes February 10, 2018

I like most other people who have posted I had a cancer diagnosis (breast) in 2010 from receiving the news on 11th May I had surgery various scans and tests and started 6 months of chemo on 21st June followed by 4 weeks radiotherapy I was overwhelmed at the speed and exceptional care I received from the NHS and hate the thought that someone else would be deprived I have tried to do my bit in raising £11,500 for cancer research which is a drop in the ocean compared to the overall cost of treatment one injection after chemo had a price tag of £600 I had 6 of those alone it makes me angry when I see money being wasted on sculptures etc and ridiculous expenses claims by MPs when it could be used to provide others with the level of care I have and still receive

michael rennie February 9, 2018

There is no doubt that the NHS needs more money, but this support should follow a comprehensive review of the areas where the money is most needed. It should not go to salary increases, doctors contracts etc., as happened in the Blair years.

Mark Randall February 9, 2018

The best way to get Corbin as our next prime minister is to carry on screwing our NHS.

Carole Dexter February 9, 2018

In the autumn of 2011 I was diagnosed with bowel cancer
I benefitted from a very early diagnosis, prompt surgery and follow up chemotherapy
I am now a 76 years old well and fit lady, caring for my 81 year husband with dementia and multiple health problems. This is 24/7 and I am able to do this successfully due to the prompt treatment I received in 2011

Fiona Burnett February 8, 2018

Having had treatment for breast cancer in the 2016. I was so grateful to the surgeons ,my oncologist ,radiographers and the terrific nursing staff.
There was times when my treatment had to be slowed down because of my reaction to the chemo This often meant that nurses stayed back when their shift was finished to stay with me. All of this was greatly appreciated. Once when I became very ill the response from the oncology team was absolutely outstanding. All of this was done with kindness and care by a stretched NHS team.
We need to find some way of injecting more money into our NHS to recruit and keep staff. To also speed up the time between diagnosis and treatment because time does matter . This diseases in all its forms is a threat to everyone and so we have to make our elected MP’s and MSP’s take notice of what needs to be done.

Diane Gagnon February 8, 2018

Having survived cancer twice (Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2004 and endometrial adenocarcinoma in 2013), I am very concerned that, once cancer is diagnosed, treatment should commence ASAP. When discussing the start of my R-CHOP chemotherapy with the oncologist, I explained that I wanted to avoid feeling unwell over the approaching Christmas period, as my grown up daughters would be home . I remember clearly being told by the oncologist that waiting a couple of days wouldn’t make much difference, but waiting two weeks would. Cancer patients can not afford to have vital treatment delayed.

David Hannaford February 8, 2018

Having had cancer myself and lost a daughter and my wife to the big C I find it inexcusable to even consider reducing our efforts to deal with the dreadful disease. We are a rich nation and this appalling government can only think of austerity. I fear that without a change we will end up mirroring the ghastly health service of Trumpland

Janice harvey February 8, 2018

It’s so heartbreking the nhs is suffering due to lack of funding something has to b e done asap

MR EMERSON HUGHES February 8, 2018

THE NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE IS THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY,
AND I, AS A PENSIONER WOULD GLADLY CONTRIBUTE TO MAINTAIN THIS, THE BEST SERVICE IN THE WORLD. INVEST IN THE NHS NOW AT THE EXPENSE OF ALL OTHER. THE STAFF ARE 100% COMMITED, BACK THEM financial 100% now!!!

Alan Byron February 8, 2018

Destroy the cigarette industry, crippling taxes on alcohol, Huge taxes on sugar, high incentives on healthy diet and exercise. Some practices have health activity units tacked on to surgeries. This is the only way to prvent cancer. More effective than treating it.

Philip Longdon February 8, 2018

We need a complete rethink on Government spending in this country. Too much of our taxes are spent on Investment to benefit middle and upper income people, especially in London and the Home Counties. We also have this attitude that “current” spending is evil. This means all our public services are stretched through under staffing. Even her we have the wrong priorities. Surely its absolutely wrong to spend more per criminal on Prisoners (£31k average) than NICE will spend on drugs for Cancer and other common chronic diseases.
As an aside, can the Medical community and the general Media (especially BBC) stop these “good news for cancer sufferers” headlines, as they always end up being about a specific form of cancer – usually breast, cervical or prostate. Never blood related cancers.

Joan Collins February 8, 2018

I would like to see the government increase income tax for those of us who can afford it and ring fence the proceeds for the NHS. People moan about the NHS but when you ask them if they would pay more tax, they are horrified. I don’t understand where they expect the money to come from. I certainly would not like to see a reduction in foreign NHS staff:some of our most gifted doctors and nurses are foreign and we owe them a debt of gratitude.

John Green February 8, 2018

I personally, would like to see money spent on an injection to give all pregnant women to prevent their babies from developing cancer at any time during their lives. Cancer could be wiped out within two generations in this country. There will never be enough money for cure, but there would never be the need for cure if it were to be prevented by the means that I’ve suggested or by some other way. It has to start with the unborn child. Stop the need for cancer cures by work on preventing it before birth, it’s the only long term solution. (I assume that this does not constitute medical advice, it is simply my opinion.)

Rigby February 8, 2018

people from other countries should not be using our NHS, which we have paid into for quite a number of years, also i think that managers are on far too much money, and bonuses, even when they retire they are allowed to step back into the same job, on the same money. NOT ON!

alison mcintyre February 8, 2018

This is shocking news and as a cancer survivor I can’t believe this is happening… we have too many people not contributing to the NHS as don’t work unlike myself and too many foreigners are draining our NHS. Time to sort this out.