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Quicker service for cancer patients but 'black spots' persist

Published on 02/03/05 at 12:35pm

Cancer patients are being seen more quickly but there is still room for improvement, says a National Audit Office report on NHS services in England.

The watchdog said 58% of patients were seen by a specialist within two weeks of referral from their GP, compared with 46% in 2000.

But the NAO also reported that a significant minority do not see a specialist within the target two weeks while one fifth wait more than a month.

The survey involved 4,300 patients (only 55% responded) with the four commonest types of cancer - breast, lung, bowel and prostate cancer - from 49 NHS Trusts across the country. The Department of Health carried out a similar survey in 2000 with the figures published in 2002.

Overall, the 2004 results showed that patients were broadly more satisfied with their treatment compared with four years ago but the NAO stressed that more is still needed.

Patients reported more involvement in their care and more than 80% said they were satisfied with care prior to diagnosis while two thirds said care received from their GP was "very good".

The number thinking their condition worsened while waiting for treatment fell and nine out of ten said they were given bad news sensitively.

Yet there where 'black spots', noticeably amongst prostate cancer patients and Londoners which showed the least improvement since the implementation of the NHS Plan in 2002.

Nearly twice as many prostate cancer patients waited more than two weeks to be seen by a specialist compared to other cancer patients. They also responded less positively to understanding how treatment had gone and information about support or self help groups.

In its defence, the DH said the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) issued its Improving Outcomes Guidance on urological cancers later than for other major cancers - a partial explanation for less positive responses.

London patients also reported less positive experience of care, particularly in the interface between hospital services, although this did not translate to a higher death rate than the rest of England.

Only 2.8% of respondents were of black or ethnic minority, making it difficult to draw conclusions although, according to the NAO, past experience has shown them to have particular difficulties as cancer patients.

Sir John Bourn, head of the NAO, said there was no room for complacency despite significant improvements being made.

"Even if only 10% of patients with major cancers were dissatisfied with some aspect of their care, that amounts to over 10,000 patients a year," he said.

Edward Leigh MP, chairman of the committee of public accounts, said cancer care remained a "lottery" for many people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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