The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Breast Cancer has published the final report of its inquiry into geographical inequalities in breast cancer diagnosis, treatment and care across England.
What did the inquiry find?
Although we know that overall outcomes for breast cancer patients are good and have improved over recent years, breast cancer treatment, care and support varies across the country.
Based on where they live in England, a woman with breast cancer may be:
- More than twice as likely to die from breast cancer under the age of 75 than a woman treated in a different area,
- A third less likely to have attended breast cancer screening in the last three years compared to a woman living in another part of the country.
Where a woman lives may also influence her access to medicines and services to support her fertility, recovery and mental health.
This year-long inquiry has shone a light on where and why these inequalities exist and what the possible solutions could be.
1. National and local workforce planning is essential
Health Education England and all Cancer Alliances should urgently ensure there are enough healthcare professionals to deliver high-quality and timely diagnosis, treatment and care to local women.
Eleanor, a secondary breast cancer patient from Kent, said:
"She transformed my experience of the disease and treatment, making the whole thing bearable."
2. New NHS structures need to improve the consistency, transparency and accountability of cancer services
NHS England should work with local NHS bodies to enable women with breast cancer to access the treatment and care they could benefit from, at a price the NHS can afford. This includes medicines, measures to preserve patients’ fertility, appropriate breast reconstruction services, and psychological support.
Lauren, a primary breast cancer patient from London, said:
"The recovery process is long and complicated, yet access to psychological care tends to be extremely limited post-treatment; it feels as though all the support just drops off a cliff edge."
3. Effective collection and use of data will drive service improvement
NHS England should work with local NHS bodies to collect data and use it to improve the services they provide. They should compare their performance to other areas and share ideas that have successfully improved breast cancer care in their area. Local healthcare providers should also use data about their populations to make sure they are offering the services that are needed in order to swiftly prevent, diagnose and treat breast cancer.
The APPG asks that NHS England, Public Health England, Cancer Alliances, commissioners and service providers consider these recommendations and work together to ensure that all those with breast cancer can be sure of world-class treatment and care regardless of where they live.