Cancer Patient Experience in the N.H.S

I have spent the last few days, looking through various reports, written about the Department of Health’s National Cancer Experience Survey. If I am honest, I am not really a report type of guy, but anything that talks about ‘Patient Experience’ grabs my attention. This is my passion, and I spend a lot of time working with support groups, charities. N.H.S. trusts etc to try and improve things for current and future patients.

Macmillan Cancer Support, have produced a table, showing in simple terms, the best and worst performing trusts. It so happens that most of the worst ones are in London, and my congratulations go to Harrogate who come out on top.

Ciarán Devane, Chief Executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, says: 

“Though many hospitals have made an improvement, far too many cancer patients are being let down by hospitals failing to provide an adequate level of care. Patient experience and non-clinical needs must be given as much priority as medical activities.
“Patient experience is one of the Government’s five key measures for success in the NHS, so Trusts need to take heed and work with Macmillan and others to urgently improve the care they offer cancer patients. I am encouraged many Trusts are taking this seriously.
“Imperial, while still at the bottom of the table, is committed to addressing the problem and working well with Macmillan and cancer patients. But these things take time, and won’t happen if they do not have sustained, top-level commitment.”

 The points raised above by Ciarán are very important, particularly the last one about top-level commitment.We can all work as hard as we can, but I know from personal experience, that if Consultants and above are not on board with fresh ways of working, then nothing will change.

The problem with these types of report is that they are very general, and of course you will always find people that have a bad experience in the top hospital, or a good experience in the worst one. To my mind, this is not really important. What these surveys actually do is highlight the need for change. I do appreciate that we need all the research etc to shape the things that we do, but as you are all aware, people with long term conditions such as cancer, do not have the time to wait.

I have been involved in a very active capacity,for more than four years, to improve the cancer experience for patients. I am on numerous consultative bodies, with other patients/ex patients. So we are being allowed to have our voice, but the problem comes when we need action. The levels of red tape and layers of continually changing management and systems makes it almost impossible to change anything. Let us remember that we are volunteering our time and skills to do this. Whenever I am talking to professionals, they are always paid for their time, so time is not an issue.

So many of the things that are continually talked about, are really very basic in any customer service industry. We are all customers, after all! Simple things like meet and greet on reception being told if a clinic is running late. Basic communication skills you would have thought? In the High St we can choose where to buy our new TV, we will go where we get a well priced product but particularly these days, where the service is good. That is why people like John Lewis are bucking the retail trend. SERVICE!!

 Ciarán also makes the important point that ‘non-clinical needs must be given as much priority as medical activities’. There is so much fallout from a cancer diagnosis, that just gets left behind during a hospital visit. Generally people don’t feel free to talk about their worries, as the impression is that no one really has the time to listen.I am a chatty guy, so make sure that I ask what I need to but not everyone is able to be like that.

To summarise, I feel that on the whole people are reasonably happy with their clinical care, eg,surgery, treatment etc, but it is the customer experience that definitely needs to improve. In my opinion, this is a culture change that needs to start happening now. Customers expectations have changed over the years, and commercially are much more demanding. The N.H.S has to move with the times too. Things that I am talking about do not involve new computer systems or equipment and not billions of £s in investment. They are relatively simple to introduce. Also, the increase in patient involvement of course is great, but it needs to be much more than lip service. Not only do we need a voice, but also a microphone!!

Do you agree/disagree with my views? What do you feel? It would be great to get your opinion.


  1. Chris, I agree with you I feel they do need to move more with the times, I was given the card of the specialist nurse, I was invited in to go through things with her, which I did, told I could ring and ask anything, no matter how small, but the thing is I am quite shy, and although I have done it, I didn’t find it easy. I felt I didn’t want to bother her or even tongue tied. I can’t helping thinking that maybe email could be used in some way.

  2. Hi Shirley
    The difficulty with large organisations such as the health service,is that it has to adopt a ‘one size fits all type of policy’, which leaves very little room for individuality.We have also addopted a ‘compensation society’ where staff always tread the ‘safe’route for fear of formal complaints etc.

    My experience has shown me that most patients need some time, and a sympathetic ear, not always specialist counselling! However, I have also found that a lot of staff, even in oncology are not comfortable talking with patients about issues arising from a cancer diagnosis.

    I know this might sound crazy but it is what I have found. Certainly there is a time element,in a hospital setting.But everyone of us reacts differently to that sort of news, and unless you are very experienced at dealing with people, you could find yourself in a tricky the routine route would be to give you numerous books and papers and hopefully you can find the answers there.

    The point you raise about email, is a valid one.However, in many instances, written communication can be misunderstood, and there is not really room for explanations,if required.What your experience shows is that we all need something different from our hospital experience, and it is really up to the staff on the front line, to judge how each individual patient requires their information.

    I started this blog because I realised that the traditional way of communicating and receiving support is rapidly changing. People prefer being able to log on, at a time that suits them, when they are feeling well enough. Some people prefer to be anonymous, others not. Some people like to write comments, others don’t. The choice is their own. This is not intended to replace the personal, one to one support, but maybe complement it.

    It is possible that dealing with your illness, will remove some of your shyness, have you thought about that? Thanks again for you comments and I am glad that you are finding this blog a useful tool.

    Posted by Chris to Chris’s Cancer Community at 9 September 2012 11:28

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