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How will the future of cancer care change?

What can be done to improve cancer outcomes for all? This was the focus of our recent discussion on the future of healthcare, held at a time when the UK’s performance in cancer outcomes is lagging behind the rest of Western Europe, and two years into a five-year strategy to improve cancer outcomes. 

For the discussion we, together with Lord Chadlington, brought a diverse group of innovators and health and pharma leaders together. And we welcomed Nick Robinson, BBC journalist and commentator, who shared his story of cancer. Nick was diagnosed with a rare lung cancer in 2015, when his doctor picked up his diagnosis by chance due to Nick’s more frequent visits. Nick talked about his surgery which, though successful, left him with damaged vocal cords and discussed how his post-operative care helped restore his voice and return to work. The discussion that followed reflected on how we can limit the reliance on luck in many cancer journeys by embracing technological advances in healthcare without losing the human touch. We explore this further below.

Make the best use of data, technology and innovation

Screening and diagnosis are two areas identified in the cancer strategy and implementation plan. The group discussed the opportunity of using new technologies and ways of processing data to make improvements, eg to automatically assess diagnostic imaging. 

Better access to data and more transparency will also go a long way towards helping GPs and clinicians identify patterns and ensure speedier diagnoses.

Using data to compare performance with other providers would also help NHS organisations to benchmark and understand what success looks like. This approach would help to even out the levels of variation seen across the country – improving patient access, diagnosis and, ultimately, outcomes.

Discussion then evolved to cover the vital role of R&D, with the UK being a world leader in this area. To maintain this standing, the group agreed patients and clinicians should be empowered to participate in trials. And support should be offered to industry stakeholders – particularly pharma, biotech and academia – to incentivise the development of breakthrough diagnostics and treatments. 

Focus on the human factors 

Late diagnosis and uncertainty around treatment options reduce the quality of care the NHS can offer. The group agreed the most valuable way patients can receive the care they need is the human aspect – supporting people when they’re at their most vulnerable.

We defined some simple steps that can help. For example, engaging family members as partners in diagnosis and treatment, access to nursing support around the clock, introducing ‘cancer buddies’ to help manage anxiety and providing care at home wherever feasible. 

Improving patient outcomes means life after cancer should be more closely considered. Those who survive cancer are living longer – 50 per cent are living over 10 years, but with varying quality of life. Emphasis needs to be on how to support patients after cancer and providing more comprehensive recovery packages to help maximise quality of life.

This was a great event that showcased the power of bringing together a diverse group of people motivated by a common interest and a desire to make a difference. And it was our second in a series of events we’re holding on the future of healthcare. You can read more about our first event on stroke. If you’d like to get involved and contribute to our developing conversations about ‘reinventing healthcare’, please get in touch.

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