NHS Blood Cancer Care

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 17th January 2018.

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Photo of Henry Smith Henry Smith Conservative, Crawley 2:30 pm, 17th January 2018

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I am sorry to hear of his constituent’s experience. He anticipates remarks I will make later, with regard to psychological support for people with chronic, longer-term conditions and the watch and wait approach, as it is sometimes called, for dealing with some forms of blood cancer, particularly in adults.

The Government and NHS England need to address, as a matter of urgency, the specific needs of blood cancer patients and take immediate steps to improve their care. Something that may seem as simple as the terminology surrounding blood cancer can have an effect on ensuring support for patients. As I said, there are 137 different types of blood cancer—we have heard a number of different examples already—including various strands of leukaemia, lymphoma and myeloma. In each of those, one common word is missing: cancer. The lack of that important word when telling somebody they have one of those forms of blood cancer runs the risk of their not fully comprehending the gravity of their condition. The APPG’s report found that clinicians and patients said that the increasing use of the overarching term “blood cancer” has helped patients who have been diagnosed recently to gain a greater understanding, not only of how the disease is part of a wider clinical area but that there is an entire community of health professionals, charities, and patient groups to help them.

I am grateful to all those who took the time to respond to our web consultation and answer the questions, including those on early diagnosis. After analysing the responses, the APPG’s report outlines three main audience groups where increased awareness could benefit patient outcomes. The first is the general public. While greater awareness of the symptoms would lead to people seeking medical intervention sooner, I also appreciate the words of caution from some in the medical profession, who reiterate that this must be handled carefully to avoid undue concern, particularly given the commonality of the symptoms. There is agreement that blood cancer awareness is far behind that of other common cancers, as we have heard.

The second is GPs. Recognising and diagnosing blood cancer symptoms can be difficult, and many patients reported frustration at having to see their GP a number of times before their blood cancer was diagnosed, as we have heard. The third—as I turn to the Minister—is cancer policy makers. We heard that blood cancer was not always at the forefront of their minds. As such, we seek the extension of policies and initiatives designed to ensure broad benefit to patients with solid cancer tumours to those with blood cancer.

Much of the work on blood cancer awareness is undertaken by the charity sector. To that end, I pay tribute to the Spot Leukaemia campaign organised by Leukaemia CARE, which I am pleased to say was supported by my local community through Crawley Town football club, which made the cause its charity of the day at a game just last September. I ask the Minister for his assurance that the Department of Health and Social Care will engage with such campaigns, to ensure that the full power of his Department and the NHS can be used not only to work in partnership with such charities but to give greater consideration to non-solid tumour cancers when developing policy.

If blood cancers are taken into greater account, it will lead to improvements in the patient experience. As we heard in an earlier intervention, the patient experience of those with blood cancer differs from those with other cancers. The sad reality is that some patients with some chronic blood cancers will never be cured. They will instead require treatment for the rest of their lives, with the cancer managed as a long-term condition. Patients who have had access to a clinical nurse specialist have been clear on the role that a CNS has in the patient experience. Indeed, respondents to the APPG’s report were clear that access to a named CNS was the single most important factor that improved their experience.

Again, the charity sector is working to support patients in this area. By April, the Anthony Nolan charity will have funded nine CNS posts in stem cell transplant centres across the UK. These specialists provide support for patients, including assistance in getting back to work or school, as well as dealing with the physical and emotional aspects of a stem cell transplant—a potentially curative treatment for blood cancer, as we heard in an intervention, for which I am grateful.

Some patients will be put on a watch and wait programme, as I mentioned earlier. That literally means that a patient’s blood cancer is monitored, and it can sometimes take years for it to reach a point where treatment can start. The very nature of such a scenario will place unbelievable pressures and strain not only on the patient fighting that cancer, but on their family, friends and wider support network.

Tailored psychological support, which I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Hollobone for mentioning, needs to be made available for patients—particularly those on a watch and wait regime.