Monday 4th February is World Cancer Day.
Individuals and organisations around the world will be taking the opportunity presented by this annual event to raise awareness, promote understanding, lobby for improvements in the quality of life for those affected by the disease and share ground-breaking, potentially life-changing research, using the day as a launchpad.
For others, World Cancer Day will be like any other on the frontline as they deliver compassionate care and support to patients, carers and families affected by cancer – some awaiting diagnosis, some undergoing active treatment, others receiving palliative care and support.
For most patients, World Cancer Day itself will mean little or nothing. They are constantly dealing with the very personal impact of a cancer diagnosis, coming to terms with what that means for them and their loved ones, experiencing the ups and downs of living with a long-term health condition, or maybe accessing palliative or end of life care.
According to the official website , World Cancer Day began back in February 2000, at the World Summit Against Cancer for the New Millennium, held in Paris. The Paris Charter aims to promote research, prevent cancer, improve patient services, raise awareness and mobilise the global community to make progress, putting firmly at the centre of the world health stage.
Cancer survival in this country is the highest it has ever been, more cancers are being diagnosed early and patients’ reported experience of their care has never been higher. However, despite significant progress, there remains much to be done to narrow the gap between the UK and comparable countries to deliver the very best survival outcomes for patients in England – and to stamp out unacceptable geographical and tumour site variations in care and treatment.
At a national level, it is encouraging to see that the priority given to cancer continues in the recently-published NHS Long Term Plan. It makes a commitment to increasing the proportion of people diagnosed at stage 1 or 2 of their cancer to 75 per cent over the next 10 years (it is currently around 52 per cent in West Yorkshire and Harrogate), making more cancers curable and leading to an additional 55,000 people each year surviving for five years or more following their cancer diagnosis.
Actions will include raising awareness of the symptoms of cancer with the public and clinicians, speeding up diagnosis by removing barriers to referral for GPs, investing in improved screening programmes and testing facilities, and extending lung health check programmes. Those diagnosed will also benefit from safer, more precise treatments, including advanced radiotherapy, with fewer side effects and shorter treatment times.
With survival rates increasing, the plan also includes clear actions to help people live well with their cancer.Over the next three years, every patient with cancer for whom it is clinically appropriate will get a full assessment of their needs, an individual care plan and access to support for their wider health and wellbeing.
There is also clear recognition that none of the transformation necessary can be achieved without the right people with the right skills in the right places, and strong and committed leadership to inspire, motivate and encourage.
As one of 19 Cancer Alliances around the country, it’s our job to lead the transformation and improvement necessary across West Yorkshire and Harrogate to deliver on the ambitions of the Long Term Plan, working closely with the NHS Trusts, CCGs, local councils, community and voluntary organisations and our charity colleagues which make up our Alliance and which are delivering on the ground.
Together, we have a big job to do, but our forward thinking and ambitious work programmes as an Alliance are already in line with the objectives of the Long Term Plan. For example, our multidisciplinary diagnostic centres in Leeds and Airedale for patients with vague but concerning symptoms are enabling earlier confirmation for those patients who do have cancer, while speeding up diagnosis and reducing anxiety for those who don’t.Our Community of Practice is supporting shared learning and will lead to the role-out of other similar projects across West Yorkshire and Harrogate.
Cancer patients each have their own individual and wide-ranging needs at the end of treatment, and sign-posted support tailored to each individual can make a huge difference to their lives. Whilst in general people’s health needs are met, many have told us that more could be done to provide practical. emotional and financial support.
The acute Trust in Bradford has joined forces with colleagues at Cancer Support Yorkshire on a Macmillan-funded project, facilitated by the Cancer Alliance, piloting an approach to personalised support co-ordination, initially focusing on head and neck, gynaecological, gastrointestinal tract and colorectal cancer.
From now on, the offer of support to help people with their personal finances, the ability to maintain social networks and psychological wellbeing as well as chronic physical problems such as fatigue and pain, will be formalised and discussed in a face-to-face appointment as an integral part of patient care. They are then signposted to support services as appropriate.
These and other projects demonstrate the importance of taking the global commitment to tackling cancer and improving care, along with the national ambitions to drive up clinical outcomes, patient experience and quality, and translating these into what matters to people living in our local communities, reflected in our place-based plans.
Our Cancer Alliance will be taking the opportunity presented on World Cancer Day to focus on lung cancer, a huge issue for us across West Yorkshire and Harrogate, where it kills more people than any other cancer – and the actions we are taking to tackle the issue.
You can read more on the Cancer Alliance website about our four-pronged approach in Bradford and Wakefield, where we will be working with local partners to introduce targeted lung health checks for people most at risk in two of our local places with the highest smoking prevalence, as part of a wider Tackling Lung Cancer programme.
While not everyone who develops lung cancer is or has been a smoker, smoking is the greatest risk factor – as it is for so many cancers. We’re backing Public Health England’s currentHealth Harms campaign, which highlights the harm to health caused by every single cigarette (you may have seen the tv ads running at the moment).
We’re also working with colleagues across our area to encourage a Smokefree NHS.Our ambition is to see over 100,000 fewer smokers by 2021 and to see the next generation of children grow up protected from the health harms of tobacco, in a place where smoking is unusual.
This sits well with the theme of this year’s World Cancer Day, which is ‘I Am and I Will – the launch of a three-year campaign calling for personal commitment and recognising the power of individual taken now to impact the future.
As professionals, as patients, as parents, as carers, as people - we can all do something to make a difference to improve the lives of people affected by cancer.
Follow the Cancer Alliance on Twitter @profseanduffy and on Facebook, @WYHCancerAlliance