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Cancer care – the power of new technologies

With patient numbers set to soar, how can we make a difference?


While the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2017 shows that, overall, cancer patients are satisfied with the care they receive, this experience is varied dependent on location, socio-economic status and type of cancer. With the number of cancer patients on the rise, we need to tackle this disparity by collaborating with the NHS and embracing the power of new technologies.

Last month marked the publication of the seventh NHS England’s annual National Cancer Patient Experience Survey. On reading the results, we should feel encouraged to see that people living with cancer are continuing to report generally positive experiences relating to their care.

Seventy years since treatment for cancer was made available to every UK citizen free at the point of use, patients are more satisfied than previous years across a range of metrics: 79% of patients feel involved in decisions about their care and treatment; 89% of respondents said that they were always treated with respect and dignity while they were in hospital and 94% of those petitioned said that hospital staff told them who to contact if they were worried about their condition or treatment after they left hospital. This positive picture is testament to the phenomenal efforts of NHS staff, who continue to do all they can to make sure cancer patients receive the best possible care.

That said, there is always room for improvement. While the survey results were broadly positive, it remains worrying that the standard of care patients receive is often dependent on where they live and their socio-economic background. For example, people from the most deprived areas reported a substantially worse experience when it came to being given enough care and support from health or social services – such as district nurses, home helps or physiotherapists – compared to those

from less deprived areas. Similarly, the standard of care that patients received was dependent
on the tumour type that they had, with brain cancer patients highlighting a significantly worse experience than for other tumour types.

Cancer diagnoses are set to soar

With an increasingly ageing population, cancer diagnoses are set to soar. It is estimated that, by 2020, three million people will be living with cancer and, by 2030, this will rise to four million. It is critical that this increase in patients does not result in a drop in the quality of care received, and that the upward trajectory in patient outcomes we have seen in recent years continues. Cancer is more common in older people, and over half of all cancer cases in the UK each year are diagnosed in people aged between 50 and 74 years. As people are living longer, more and more people will be living longer with cancer.

To relieve the strain, it is more important now than ever before for the NHS to work in collaboration with industries like ours. Generally, new medicines and treatment approaches are offering renewed hope for cancer patients and the advent of innovative digital technologies is starting to disrupt clinical practice, presenting new ways of driving improvements in patient care and outcomes.

But the arrival of this science brings with it a need to refresh how our health system is set up to care for patients. For patients to fully benefit from these advances, it is critical that we examine existing structures and practices within the health system, enabling us to ensure that scientific advances translate to improved outcomes for all those treated.

I am proud to lead a dedicated team within Pfizer who work with healthcare professionals and management, as well as patient groups, to understand and improve the experience of people going through cancer care. Together,
we are continually seeking to support the NHS in finding ways to improve across the whole patient demographic. Sometimes this requires us to step back and look objectively at how a hospital Trust is operating to identify how things could work better; sometimes we need to think creatively and consider whether we should adopt a different approach to patient care.

Harnessing the power of science and technology

As in many other areas of our lives, technological discovery in healthcare is a vital way to unlock previously unseen potential. Technology allows us to work faster and to better understand complexity. In the NHS, for example, technological advances such as artificial intelligence (AI) can help doctors and nurses process huge amounts of medical information, and help them to make connections very quickly that the human mind might never be able to establish.

This could have huge implications in cancer care. It could aid the earlier detection and diagnosis of cancer, enable the real-time monitoring of patients and their symptoms and act as an informative companion for people living with the disease. The benefits of early diagnosis and detection are self-explanatory but the potential to use technology to support patients on a day-to- day basis should be discussed more widely.

For example, with the real-time monitoring of patients, it might be possible to identify when a hospital appointment or check-up is not needed, saving patients from wasting precious personal time unnecessarily. This could alleviate pressures in clinic, freeing time for doctors and nurses and ensuring the patients’ experience when they do attend hospital is as sensitive and stress-free as possible.

The one negative result of the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey was a decline in respondents saying that they thought that ‘the GPs and nurses at their general practice definitely did everything they could to support them while they were having cancer treatment’. We know that primary care is under immense strain and GPs are very pressed for time. And, given that more people than ever are living with and beyond cancer, the strain on health systems is likely to increase further. In order to best support the health system to cope with the extra pressure, we need to explore the efficiencies that can be made by embedding innovative technologies into every step of the patient pathway to ensure that patients today and, in the future, receive optimal care.

Effective collaboration is key

That’s why working with patients is the cornerstone of how we develop medicines and other products. It’s crucial that we try to take some of this strain off the NHS and help it to deliver the best possible care. We’re excited to be supporting Trusts like the Velindre Cancer Centre in Wales to explore how innovative technologies can improve the
care of cancer patients and alleviate pressure on hardworking frontline staff. We want to ensure that the NHS’s infrastructure is able to keep pace with the developments in treatment and technologies. The field of artificial intelligence is promising and something we should harness, but success with these new innovations rests on effective collaboration between the NHS and industry.

We are continually engaged in conversations with NHS colleagues, exploring ways to help redefine life with cancer. The Patient Experience team is firmly committed to helping cancer services do things differently, and, as technological advances continue and the opportunity for disruptive change grows, we are committed to doing different things. We welcome conversations with NHS colleagues who share our ideals, and through working together I truly believe we can ensure cancer patients, wherever they are in the UK, receive the best care in Europe.

Geoff Rollason is Patient Experience Director at Pfizer Oncology

16th October 2018

Geoff Rollason is Patient Experience Director at Pfizer Oncology

16th October 2018

From: Healthcare



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