Doctors letting cancer patients down, warns RCP

21 November 2012
Terminally ill cancer patients are being let down during emergency admissions to hospital, the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) is warning.

The joint  study by the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Radiologists looked at the care cancer patients receive when they are undergoing a health crisis. It reported that doctors sometimes let a cancer diagnosis “cloud other considerations in their management”, leading to substandard care.

The authors of the report, 'Cancer patients in crisis: responding to urgent needs', say that emergency hospital admissions for patients with cancer remain "problematic" despite the development of acute oncology.

They also say that patients and their carers frequently do not receive enough information about what to expect and who to contact if the patient's condition suddenly worsens. Information can also be confusing or conflicting, and patients can find themselves being passed between multiple specialist teams. This makes it more difficult for them to assert their concerns and wishes.

The study urges more proactive and better coordinated care, with greater emphasis on planning for potential problems and better training for staff. It also urged staff to be on the look out for undiagnosed cases of cancer - nearly a quarter of new cancers are diagnosed after a person seeks emergency help.

It also cautions against non-cancer specialist doctors giving cancer patients "an over-optimistic picture of their outlook”. This can lead to “inappropriate or unhelpful interventions” in the last weeks of the patient's life.

Speaking today, Eve Richardson, Chief Executive of the National Council for Palliative Care and of the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “We only have one chance to get end of life care right, which is why it is concerning that many people who are dying are being needlessly admitted to hospital against their wishes, causing unnecessary distress and discomfort.

"Routinely involving people who may be approaching the end of their life in discussions about the care and support they would like to receive, before it is too late, is essential and must be a priority for all health and care staff.”

Dr Jane Barrett, president of the RCR, said: "Patient care and joint decision making must be at the centre of cancer services now and in the future. As clinical oncologists an important part of our role is to ensure that a patient understands their treatment and able to decide what is best for them, cancer treatment cannot be a one-sided process."


Download the full report at the Royal Society of Physicians website

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