I've seen first-hand how breast cancer changes lives. As well as physical symptoms of the disease, there are emotional and practical consequences too.
The NHS is changing rapidly but care for all patients, including those diagnosed with breast cancer, must remain a top priority.
There are around 570,000 people thought to be living with breast cancer in the UK, and each one deserves the best quality care at every stage of their diagnosis and treatment. I'm pleased to see there are efforts to improve the standard of care provided by the NHS in England via NICE's breast cancer quality standard. However there is a real concern that these attempts will fail to deliver due to a lack of monitoring and reporting.
This Tuesday Breast Cancer Campaign has launched a report, Finding the cures, improving the care, which outlines what high-quality care should look like for all women with breast cancer and highlights that these guidelines are not being used to their full potential.
The Breast cancer quality standard was one of the first quality standards of its kind to be produced, and many more have followed since, covering other health issues including dementia, stroke and ovarian cancer. They are available for all commissioners and healthcare professionals responsible for the care of patients and if it they were being used consistently, it would mean that every patient would expect the same high-quality care they need.
The standards are essential to the government's vision for improving outcomes for people using health and social care services. They were created with good intention and it's clear that if utilised, they could drive improvements to care, to the benefit of patients.
The main issue is that there is currently no way, or attempt by any NHS body, to comprehensively monitor performance against the breast cancer quality standard to ensure that the quality of care across the NHS improves. Without monitoring, we simply do not know the impact of this standard or quality standards in general and the extent to which they are delivering improved services.
We are making 16 recommendations, outlined in the report, for how the breast cancer quality standard can be used more effectively to measure and improve the quality of care. Crucially, we are calling on NHS England to urgently commit to an annual review of compliance with the standard.
It's not enough to pay lip-service to the standards of care and consider that job done. A breast cancer diagnosis is an extremely traumatic experience. It's essential to put both clinical outcomes and women's emotional wellbeing at the forefront of treatment and therefore there is an urgent need to ensure that appropriate levers and incentives are in place to deliver these improvements.
The breast cancer quality standard is a vital tool which if we harness to its full potential, will greatly improve the standards of care in a rapidly changing NHS that all women with breast cancer deserve.
Women living with breast cancer face many challenges, but poor-quality care should not be one of them.