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More support needed for people living with cancer, says Macmillan charity

Published 08/12/2015

The NHS in England spends more than 500 million pounds a year on emergency care for people diagnosed with the four most common cancers
The NHS in England spends more than 500 million pounds a year on emergency care for people diagnosed with the four most common cancers

A lack of support for people living with cancer is putting "unsustainable" pressure on the NHS, one of the UK's leading cancer charities has warned.

Macmillan Cancer Support says the NHS in England spends more than £500 million a year on emergency care for people diagnosed with the four most common cancers, and urged the health service to bring an end to its "dysfunctional" approach to dealing with the disease.

More than £130m of the £500m is spent treating people more than six months after their diagnosis, when initial treatment has usually finished, the charity's report states.

The report highlights "the often life-long" cost of supporting people living with cancer and says the current system fails to help people recover and enjoy a good quality of life.

Juliet Bouverie, executive director of services and influencing at Macmillan, said: "Emergency care should be a last resort for people living with cancer, and the fact that such vast amounts are spent on it each year is symptomatic of a system that is not geared towards helping people take control of their health.

"This has to change, and the Government and NHS must take the difficult but vital decision to fully fund this shift."

The number of people living with cancer in England is expected to reach 3.4m within the next 15 years, the charity said, with more people surviving the disease than ever before.

In some cases, almost £100m more is spent on hospital care for patients after they finished their treatment than on their care during diagnosis. Of 40,000 women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer each year, the cost of care during initial treatment is £155m, while the amount spent after that treatment ends is £250m, Macmillan said.

Ms Bouverie said: "The story does not end when someone's treatment finishes, and many people live with the effects of cancer for the rest of their life.

"This means the NHS needs the money to care for people far beyond initial treatment. There will be significant cost implications if the Government and NHS do not invest now. Quite simply, money has to be sent now, and spent wisely, to save later."

Deborah Grigg, 46, from Buckinghamshire, was diagnosed with breast cancer in March and said she struggled to get medical advice after treatment.

She said: "Following radiotherapy I had been told my skin may still continue to burn for a few weeks after treatment.

"What I was not told was that my skin was so thin it was prone to infection and that in fact I had cellulitis. After my treatment, I was given a leaflet and a number to call but I could never get through.

"I could not even get hold of my GP for two days so I was admitted to A&E with a giant abscess. If I had better support after my treatment, five very expensive days in hospital could have been avoided."

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