It has been well publicised that the challenges faced by the NHS throughout the Covid-19 pandemic reach far beyond the direct impact of the virus. Research shows that more than 650,000 people with cancer in the UK (22%) have experienced disruption to their cancer treatment or care because of Covid-19.
Cancer rates are on an upward trajectory but a backlog in routine screening, combined with millions of people delaying making appointments to investigate potential health problems, has led to an estimated 50,000 fewer people in 2020 receiving a cancer diagnoses, compared to the previous year1.
Where critical cancer treatment has continued, Hope for Tomorrow are aware of patients who have travelled more than three hours in addition to their normal journey time in order to receive treatment, due to local hospital resources being prioritised for Covid-19 response.
It’s clear that in order to work through this backlog in diagnosis and treatment, and to ensure continuity of care for cancer patients in the future, more needs to be done to make cancer care more accessible and flexible.
Thankfully, we are not alone in this belief. One Cancer Voice2 is an alliance of cancer charities which was set up to reach out to the UK government with a manifesto, on behalf of people with cancer, to recommend solutions for some of the biggest issues that the next Government will face. The manifesto sets out six key objectives for the government to address;
1 Put the right staff in place
2 Diagnose cancer earlier
3 Ensure people living with cancer have access to the appropriate treatment and psychological support
4 Support people living with cancer beyond their treatment
5 Preserve the UK’s status as a world-leader in cancer research
6 Prevent people from developing cancer
By joining One Cancer Voice, we make a commitment to support the NHS with new ways to ensure cancer patients receive the treatment they need when and where they need it.
We believe that cancer treatment should be patient-centric with patients having a say in their treatment plans, including where this treatment is delivered. With 13 Mobile Cancer Care Units (MCCUs) around the UK and two new units launching in 2021, cancer treatment in the community is a reality for thousands of patients, and something all NHS trusts should be supported to deliver.
Patients that receive treatment on board an MCCU speak about the benefits of reduced journey times and how their day-to-day routines can continue, despite the need for treatment. Nurses on board the units tell us how truly therapeutic care is possible with continuity of staff, no waiting times and a relaxed, less clinical atmosphere.
We have seen our partner NHS trusts able to deliver up to 62% of their departmental oncology treatment on board an MCCU3, freeing up vital on-site resources for more complex care and we continue to develop our fleet to ensure NHS trusts can expand the range of services and treatments they can offer within the community.
Underpinning a move to flexible treatment delivery is the development of innovative new medications. One example is a new combined treatment called PHESGO, used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer, which accounts for 15% of all breast cancers. It takes as little as five minutes to prepare and administer a treatment, compared with two infusions that can take up to two and a half hours4.
Patients are already receiving PHESGO on board our MCCUs. With 3,600 patients identified as eligible for the drug each year, by expanding the availability of MCCUs across the country, this combination of medicine, delivered in a safe, convenient location has the potential to revolutionise breast cancer treatment in the UK.
With one in two people now facing a cancer diagnosis in their lifetime, learning from the aftermath of Covid-19 is critical, and a unique opportunity to change the way patients receive cancer treatment in the UK. A combined effort and collaborative approach across healthcare providers, pharmaceutical companies and cancer charities is key to delivering a sustainable model for the future.
1 Macmillan – The Forgotten ‘C’? The impact of COVID-19 on cancer care available at https://www.macmillan.org.uk/assets/forgotten-c-impact-of-covid-19-on-cancer-care.pdf
2 One Cancer Voice – A manifesto for people living with cancer available at https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/sites/default/files/one_cancer_voice_-_final_1.0.pdf
3 Hope for Tomorrow gathered data 4 NHS – Thousands of patients set to benefit from five-minute breast cancer treatment available at https://www.england.nhs.uk/2021/04/thousands-of-patients-set-to-benefit-from-five-minute-breast-cancer-treatment-2/