The government is planning to launch a new 10-year cancer plan, which will determine the long term approach to cancer services in England. To help shape their new vision, the Department of Health and Social Care is asking people affected by cancer to share their views by completing a survey.   

In this blog, we will explore a number of the key areas that we believe the government needs to address in the plan. The policy team at Breast Cancer Now will be including these in our own submission – but we hope you can also use it as a useful guide to help shape your own responses. 
 
This call for evidence is an opportunity to help inform the government’s 10-Year cancer plan for England. If we want this plan to reflect the needs and concerns of people living with breast cancer, it’s essential that the voices of people living with breast cancer are heard.

Tackling the cancer workforce crisis 

For far too long the breast cancer workforce has been facing a crisis with prolonged staff shortages. Despite continued calls, the Government has yet to develop a long-term, fully resourced workforce plan that is backed by regular projections of the number of staff needed to deliver care and treatment.

We know that NHS staff continue to work tirelessly to see as many women as possible through breast screening services and in breast clinics, but the pandemic has taken its toll with many staff experiencing burn out. We urgently need to support the imaging and diagnostic breast cancer workforce - this is vital if we are to give everyone the best possible chance of early diagnosis, which we know is critical to improving chances of survival. 

This is why we will be highlighting the need for an urgent long-term workforce plan in our response to the Call for Evidence, along with the necessary investment.

Only by the government sufficiently supporting and resourcing the entire cancer workforce can we ensure that all patients have access to the care and treatment they need. People affected by breast cancer have told us that they can see staff are run off their feet and whilst staff are doing their very best, they are simply overstretched.  

Ensuring people are diagnosed early

Diagnosing breast cancer as early as possible is important as the chances of successful treatment are at their highest. Ensuring people are also diagnosed quickly is important, so that patients start treatment as soon as possible and are not left anxiously waiting for test results. We want to see ambitious targets for promoting both rapid and early diagnosis in the new cancer plan.

Achieving this will involve increasing the number of women attending breast screening, and ensuring that people are referred, assessed, and diagnosed with breast cancer without any unnecessary delays. We also want the support and information offered to people to meet their needs. 

Improving family history services

Women who have a significant history of breast cancer in their family may be more likely to develop breast cancer themselves. For women at an increased risk, earlier and more frequent screening is often recommended, and there are also treatment options available to help lower their chances of developing breast cancer.

However, the care provided to women at increased risk may vary depending on factors such as where they live. We want the cancer plan to ensure that women at increased risk of breast cancer are offered consistent support, information and care to enable them to make informed choices about managing their risk. This could also help reduce the number of  breast cancers that occur in the long-term. 

Ensuring effective drugs reach patients quickly  

Improving patient access to treatments is a key priority for us and we believe it’s critical that the new cancer plan has a clear ambition to ensure new clinically effective cancer drugs are reaching patients quickly.

In particular, the government should review the new MHRA regulatory processes, including the cancer specific route ‘Project Orbis’ and NICE capacity in general to ensure better alignment between regulatory timelines and NICE appraisals to truly deliver sustainable access for patients and prevent avoidable delays to potentially life-changing treatments. 

For secondary breast cancer patients, access to the most effective drugs is one of their biggest priorities, and for good reason. It can extend the time before the disease progresses, meaning extra months or even years with loved ones.

In recent years, we’ve seen a number of important breast cancer drugs approved for use on the NHS in England but, despite progress, patients are too often still having to face an agonising wait to find out whether a treatment that could benefit them will be available on the NHS.

Over the next 10 years, we’re likely to see more personalised and combination treatments, so we also need to ensure the cancer plan ensures the right workforce is in place to support patients and deliver them. 

Meeting the needs of people living with secondary breast cancer 

Patients with secondary (metastatic) breast cancer experience delays in diagnosis, struggle to access the support of a specialist nurse, fear they won’t be able to access the treatment they need in the future, and are not given sufficient information about clinical trials or research.  
 
Secondary breast cancer should be central to a future cancer plan, with the plan placing as equal focus on ensuring those with cancer have the best quality of life for as long as possible as its commitment for cancers to be diagnosed at an early stage. Any future cancer plan should ensure all elements of the cancer pathway are viewed through the prism of secondary breast cancer, due to the complexity of their treatment and care– considering secondary patients’ unique needs, experiences, and priorities.  
 
We are specifically calling for the cancer plan to deliver on the key recommendations of our secondary breast cancer report. This includes:

  • Everyone with secondary breast cancer being supported by a Clinical Nurse specialist
  • Making secondary breast cancer and its treatment better understood though further research
  • Auditing and improved data collection relating to secondary breast cancer
  • Ensuring that secondary breast cancer is promptly diagnosed through the improvement of patient and healthcare professional awareness of signs and symptoms and improved referral and diagnosis pathways
     

This call for evidence is an opportunity for you to help improve cancer care in England. It’s so important that as many people affected by breast cancer share their views with decision-makers. To take part visit the survey link here. The deadline is 11:45pm on April 8th.

Complete the survey