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People diagnosed with cancer are generally very positive about the treatment they receive from the NHS, but once that treatment ends they often feel they have been ‘cut loose’, with little or no ongoing care and support.

Now moves are in hand to address that failing through a series of pilot programmes designed to assess and improve the quality of life for recovering cancer patients. This ground-breaking new approach will drive improvements in aftercare, including personalised plans for people with cancer outlining not only their physical needs, but also other support they may need, such as help at home or financial advice.

The most recent (2016) annual National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, found that out of the almost 73,000 patients who responded, the average rating for their overall NHS care was an encouraging 8.74 out of 10. However, the survey also highlighted failings in the provision of community-based and social care as a follow-up to hospital-based treatment for cancer. In other words, too many people felt they were left to their own devices after being sent home from hospital following treatment.

There was also no way to measure how well patients were supported after treatment, which has prompted the development of a new ‘quality of life metric’. The first of its kind, it will use questionnaires to measure how effective this support is and the data will be made widely available to help patients, the public, clinicians and health service providers see how well their local after cancer care support is doing.

The first five pilot sites chosen to trial the new approach have just been announced and include NHS Trusts in Cheshire and Merseyside, the North East, London, Ipswich and Southampton.

A key part of the pilot schemes will be to identify those patients most likely to need help and follow-up support once their treatment ends, and to make sure they get it. The aim is to ensure that care and support does not abruptly end once the medical treatment is complete, but continues seamlessly during and after treatment in the form of a “Recovery Package”.

This will mean developing a comprehensive and personalised plan outlining not only a patient’s physical needs, but also any other support they might need later. This could include practical help at home, or financial advice to help them cope during recovery.

This ‘care after cancer’ treatment will be different for everyone and the pilot schemes will deliberately avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach. For example, some people will need more intensive ongoing clinical support, while others might feel more confident in taking control and managing their own care, able to call on extra support only when needed.

Professor Chris Harrison, NHS England’s National Clinical Director for Cancer, said: “Cancer survival rates are at a record high, with latest data showing an estimated 7,000 more people surviving cancer after NHS treatment compared with three years previous.

“One of our key ambitions is to put cancer patient experience front and centre. Everyone is unique, with different views and priorities, so it’s vital that they receive personalised support. This new measure will help ensure local NHS Trusts can see where things are going well and where improvements can be made.”

The care after cancer pilot programmes are beginning now in the initial five test areas and will run until 2019, with their findings used to develop effective aftercare programmes in the future.

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