The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer, an influential group of MPs, has launched a landmark new report uncovering the scale of geographical inequalities in breast cancer.
Although we know that overall outcomes for breast cancer patients are good and have improved over recent years compared to other cancers, the inquiry found that breast cancer treatment, care and support varies across the country.
Locally collected and nationally published data on breast cancer is key to understanding how different areas are performing and the reasons behind this variation. More comprehensive data collection and analysis should be used to drive service improvements and support the development of tailored local prevention, awareness and screening initiatives. In particular, data helps local NHS bodies to compare their performance to others and plan services that meet the needs of their local populations.
However, there is no national strategy for NHS services to collect and report cancer data, so data on breast cancer is patchy and data on secondary breast cancer is particularly poor. In 2016, only 22% of trusts were collecting data in full as they should be, despite the fact it has been mandatory in England since 2012.
The story in Scotland
There are three networks in Scotland that are responsible for organising cancer services across the country. Since 2007, healthcare professionals from all three networks have come together to share and discuss data, comparing themselves to and learning from each other. They also report on their performance against national standards in their annual reports.
In this way, data is being used to improve performance and everyone is able to see where they stand. According to key indicators, this has been effective in reducing variation and improving cancer services in Scotland.
What can be done in England?
Local NHS bodies should use the Cancer Dashboard, which was developed so that data on cancer survival, treatment, patient experience, quality of life, performance, incidence and mortality can be viewed at a local level. The data would allow them to compare themselves to others and take steps to improve their performance.
Comprehensive data on the diagnosis and treatment of secondary breast cancer specifically must also be collected by local trusts, recorded and made publicly available.
How can you help?
You can contact your MP now and ask them to write to the local bodies responsible for publishing a workforce plan for your area.