Cancer care needs more improvement

Cancer services in England "broadly improved" in 2004, the National Audit Office (NAO) has found, although improvements are still needed in some areas.

The NAO conducted a survey of over 4,000 patients with breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancer in England last year. The report said that "encouraging progress" had been made in most areas of patient care, since the introduction of the NHS Cancer Plan in 2000, although a minority of patients reported complaints in some areas.

The report found that two third of patients described the care received from their GP as "very good". Patients also reported an improvement in the waiting time to see a specialist – 58% said they were seen within two weeks of being referred by their GP, compared to 46% in 2000.

Patients also reported better communication regarding condition, treatment and tests than in 2000.

However a fifth of patients said that they did not fully understand most of the information and most patients said that they were not told how to make a complain and had difficulty in getting a satisfactory result when they did so.

Most patients gave largely positive responses regarding their treatment by hosptial doctors and nurses and most said hospital staff had done all they could to help ease pain, although some complained that they had to tell staff about their pain, rather than have their pain assessed by staff.

Most patients reported that that they had received support in dealing with distress and anxiety, although a fifth of those in hospital and a quarter of those outside hospital felt they did not receive enough help.

However, prostate cancer sufferers and London patients remained less positive about their care. Patients in London provided less than positive responses to over two-thirds of questions, while prostate cancer patients, gave less than positive responses to over two-thirds of questions, in areas such as length of wait from GP referral to seeing a specialist, discussion about the side effects of treatment and how it had gone and having a named nurse in charge of care.

The NAO recommended that particular attention needed to be given towards implementation of prostate cancer guidance, especially the provision of access to all patients of a urological cancer nurse specialist. The NAO also should that further investigation should be carried out into patient care in London.

Sir John Bourn, Head of the NAO, said: "There is no room for complacency – even if only 10 per cent of patients with major cancers were dissatisfied with some aspect of their care, that amounts to over 10,000 people a year. We look to the NHS to continue its drive for improvement in patient care, particularly with respect to patients in London and those with prostate cancer."


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