Improvements needed in acute cancer care

CANCER patients presenting at hospitals for urgent medical attention often receive fragmented care with the diagnosis clouding other considerations in their management – so says a new report from the Royal College of Physicians of London.

Cancer patients in crisis: responding to urgent needs, produced by the RCP and the Royal College of Radiologists, states that in emergency situations cancer patients are often seen by multiple healthcare professionals and sometimes multiple medical specialties providing confusing or conflicting information. As a result, many patients feel less able to assert their concerns and wishes.

"This results in some patients being treated suboptimally, especially where the cancer diagnosis clouds other considerations in their management. Others, especially nearing the end of life, may undergo repeated investigations and interventions that are not to their benefit. Some admissions, especially among patients already approaching the end of life, may be avoidable."

Over the last 12 years there has been a steady increase in emergency admissions for people with cancer. Nearly a quarter of new cancers present via this route. The report provides decision-making tools to health professionals working in hospitals and the community to help improve the care of cancer patients in crisis. It proposes standards of good practice in each care setting which should reduce risk and improve outcomes.

The document also includes a planning wallet for patients which is intended to encourage timely discussions about unexpected problems at any point in a patient’s journey and to help facilitate forward planning in regard to their care.

Dr Wendy Makin, chair of the RCP-RCR joint working party and consultant in palliative care and oncology said: "This report offers recommendations to health professionals, commissioners and policy makers that will help to improve the care given to cancer patients. It also provides tools to patients to help them and their carers take charge of their treatment and improve the care they receive."