Patient and doctor

Most cancer patients rated their care as excellent or very good

From burger bars to B&Bs, we’re encouraged to provide feedback about the many different services we use in life. Such feedback helps the people providing those services to improve what they do.

For many people the NHS provides a life-changing service – cancer care. And a couple of weeks ago, nearly 70,000 cancer patients had their say on their experience of care in the NHS.

Their invaluable feedback has been published in NHS England’s latest National Cancer Patient Experience Survey, a questionnaire sent to patients in every hospital that gives cancer treatment..

The questionnaire is wide ranging and includes asking patients whether they were offered a choice about their treatment and what types of information they were given about their disease.

We saw a few less than positive articles in the press about the outcomes of the survey recently. And while analysis of the survey continues, we hope that hospitals up and down the country are using it to see how they are performing and to make improvements in the care they give cancer patients.

Here are some of the headlines from our point of view.

The good news

Overall, the survey presents some very positive findings.

Cancer patients’ experience of care is very high, with 88 per cent of patients rating their care as either excellent or very good – the same score as last year.

And cancer patients reported improved scores on almost half (31 of 63) the questions in the survey compared to last year – clearly, some aspects of care are improving in patients’ eyes.

A recurring theme is that patients who had access to a Cancer Nurse Specialist (CNS) were far more positive about their care and treatment than patients who did not have one, by very large margins.

This shows how important these posts are, and that they should not be seen as easy targets for cuts as NHS budgets are squeezed – something we highlighted in our report on cancer services last year.

Finally on the good news front, it’s encouraging to see that the experience of care and treatment for some types of cancer has improved significantly, particularly some rarer cancers.

The not-so-good news

But there are also some significant causes for concern in these results. For example, variation in performance between hospitals still exists, and some scores in 27 hospitals significantly declined compared to last year.

While patient experience certainly isn’t the only measure to determine a hospital’s performance in delivering cancer services, it’s obviously important and so we need to think hard about how to improve these results.

We also spotted that the number of patients who have had a discussion with their doctor about taking part in cancer research has stayed roughly the same – 32 per cent in 2013 versus 33 per cent last year.

This is disappointing.

We know that patients welcome these conversations when they have them. Last year’s survey showed that almost all patients who discussed research with their doctor were glad to have been asked. And over half of those who weren’t asked would have appreciated the option.

A new question added to this year’s survey showed that two thirds of those asked went on to take part in research (64 per cent). This re-iterates the importance that these discussions have on patients’ access to and participation in research.

What’s more, the Health and Social Care Act 2012 contained a duty to promote research in the NHS. But we still don’t know any more details about how this is going to happen, and the fact that two-thirds of patients are not having a conversation with their doctor about research shows that the NHS needs a plan for how to improve this figure.

It’s absolutely essential that NHS England publishes its plans for research across the NHS as soon as possible.

There were also some inequalities shown in the findings, for example, black and minority ethnic groups, younger and elderly people, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, and women reported a less positive experience of care.

Patients attending London hospitals were also less likely to be positive than patients in any other region of England. More work needs to be done to make sure patients have a positive experience of care – regardless of their background or where they live.

The future

We will be closely watching and working with the Government and NHS England to try to make sure progress is made and patient experience improves in the areas that are falling behind, particularly in promoting research.

We believe it’s vital that this survey is conducted every year and we’re pleased that NHS England has said it has no plans to stop running this survey. It allows us keep an eye on what cancer patients make of the care they receive over time, which is essential if we are to improve cancer services.

We look forward to sharing our thoughts on what we hope will be an even more encouraging survey next year.