POSTED: April 26 2017
Rethink on cancer care needed?

Rethink on cancer care needed?

News that a third of emergency cancer patients have not seen their GP comes as analysis shows an ‘Unprecedented’ numbers of cancer cases over past five years.

Around one third (34 per cent) of cancer patients diagnosed as an emergency in England had not consulted their doctor beforehand, according to a Cancer Research UK funded study published in the British Journal of General Practice. The publication of the research comes as cancer charity Macmillan calls for the next government to invest in the NHS workforce to support growing number of people with cancer after evidence that the number of people diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK has increased by more than 25,000 in the last five years.

Macmillan says that this increase is putting the NHS under more pressure than ever before. The charity is calling for a clear and ambitious plan on how the NHS will develop a workforce that can meet the changing needs of a growing cancer population. They believe it is vital that health and social care staff are equipped with the capacity, confidence, and skills to meet the rising demand and ensure that NHS cancer care is sustainable over the next five years and beyond.

Lynda Thomas, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “The NHS faces a huge challenge to provide the level of care, treatment and expertise cancer patients need as the unprecedented demand continues to increase. Going through cancer treatment is a nerve wracking and exhausting experience, and patients need the right healthcare professionals by their side.”

“At a time when services are already stretched, doctors, nurses and medical professionals working in cancer care show incredible dedication and commitment to their roles. But the current pressures they face day to day are completely unsustainable in the long run.

“The next Government must ensure that health and social care staff are equipped with the capacity, confidence and skills so that the growing number of people with cancer get the best possible care and treatment they can.”

The rise in the number of people getting cancer is down to a number of factors including an increasing and ageing population – around two thirds of people diagnosed are over the age of 65. There are also improved diagnostic tools available for medical professionals to pick up on cancer cases and deliver effective treatment when required.

But the increase could be exacerbated as shown by the Cancer Research study that found that almost a quarter (23 per cent) of patients had visited their GP three or more times before being diagnosed as an emergency. Some of these patients had cancers that are more difficult to spot, such as myeloma and lung cancer, which could be the reason for the multiple visits.

If diagnosed as an emergency, patients are more likely to have poorer outcomes as they usually have a late stage of the disease.

Dr Georgios Lyratzopoulos, University College London. said “This highlights the need to explore all the reasons why cancers are diagnosed late, including what happens outside GP surgeries.” 

Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: “Campaigns like Be Clear on Cancer have boosted the public’s awareness of cancer signs and symptoms. But this study shows that there are multiple reasons that affect how and when a cancer diagnosis is made.

“We need to continue to increase awareness of cancer signs and symptoms and help break down the barriers preventing people from seeing their GP earlier, whilst GPs need better access to the right tests and referral routes if we want to see this number reduced.”

Colin Boxall, an advo Director commented “As the NHS comes under increasing pressure to meet the challenges of care for serious illnesses including cancers there is likely to be further demand on alternative protection solutions including Private Medical Insurance that allows care in the private sector. These insurances can however be expensive, and out of the reach of many people, which is why we believe there will be an increase in demand from employees to their employers to provide protection.”


The Macmillan research shows:

  • During 2015, 359,734 people in the UK received a cancer diagnosis, compared to 332,840 new cases in 2010.
  • The number of people who have been diagnosed with cancer has increased by more than a third over the last two decades, with almost 100,000 more patients being delivered the news in 2015 compared with 1995

You can read the Macmillan press release including research links here.

The Cancer Research UK research analysed data from more than 4,600 cancer patients, covering 18 different types of cancer, to find out how many times they had visited their GP before their disease was diagnosed as an emergency.

You can read the Cancer Research press release here.