From helping you to live a healthy, happy life to enabling you to choose how to take your final steps, we are here to support you when you need us most.

That is why we have been looking at ways to transform the services for patients facing one of the most life-changing health challenges they could encounter – cancer.

What we want to achieve

The worry cancer causes – waiting for diagnosis and treatment, throughout treatment and the hope of a full recovery – cannot be under estimated. Our aim is to make sure your journey is as smooth as possible from start to finish. We will achieve this by doing a number of things.

The government has outlined its national plan for cancer, which includes helping prevent chances of getting cancer, diagnosing cancer more quickly allowing for better treatment earlier, giving patients equally consistent high standards and access to services across Essex and supporting patients to live well with cancer and beyond and improve patient experiences.

In October 2018 we asked our patients to highlight any local priorities that could be built on the national plan. Patients highlighted three specific areas:

  • To diagnose patients earlier and make sure patients get their first appointment with a consultant within two weeks
  • To better involve and communicate with patients and their family or carers
  • To ensure there are enough staff to deliver the care so there is a continuity of care

Where we are now

We have already begun working closely with other health and care organisations across Essex, including Macmillan and Healthwatch, to put the national and local priorities for cancer into action.

Earlier diagnosis

It can be difficult for GPs to know how to refer patients when their symptoms are not clear cut, as some symptoms could relate to any number of conditions, including cancer. This can lead to patients being referred from one specialist to another, with diagnosis getting later and some patients only being diagnosed when they attend A&E.

To stop this from happening in the future, GPs across our area now have the new method for referring patients they believe have a type of cancer, but are not sure which. They have specific criteria by which they can assess their patients and refer to the correct specialist or centre, depending on the symptoms.

This is already identifying patients who have early stages of cancer, including colorectal cancer, and quickly putting minds at ease for patients who are cleared.

Thurrock will be taking part in a national programme to identify those at risk of developing lung cancer. Thurrock was chosen for the high number of people developing lung cancer. The programme will invite those most at risk to undergo an assessment and if necessary, further tests and scans in mobile units at convenient locations rather than at hospital.

These are positive steps which will, in time, make real differences to the lives of patients and their families who are living with cancer.

Working with you to achieve the best care

Sharing your experiences of your cancer journey with us can help make real changes to the way services are developed and delivered to our patients.

Our Cancer Patient Partner Scheme, launched in October 2018, brings together patients who have been diagnosed and are undergoing or have undergone treatment in the last few years, clinicians, cancer specialists, nurses and more to understand the impact of our services on your long-term wellbeing.

We want to know how you felt along your journey, what you think could be done differently, improved and changed. What were your experiences with our cancer specialists and nurses, GPs and support staff? From your initial referral to the post treatment support and guidance, it is vital we understand what works and what doesn’t. Only by working together can we make the changes – big and small – that will positively impact on the lives of cancer patients, family and carers in the future.

Being a Cancer Patient Partner takes just one or two hours of your time a week. If you are able to join in we would like to hear from you. Once you are a partner, we can all keep in touch in a number of different ways, including online forums, face-to-face meetings and wider Health and Wellbeing events. Use the contact us form for more information

More staff and continuity of care

Our staff are the ones that make great things happen. That is why we have been working hard to make sure we have the correct staff in the right places to allow for patients to be diagnosed more quickly and receive the after care they deserve.

We have begun to recruit specialist staff, such as cancer navigators, who will act as a point of call for patients diagnosed with cancer, irrespective of what stage they are in their journey. By having an appointed cancer navigator, patients can turn to them with any questions they have about their treatment and worries, without being passed around from one department to another.

Having specialist staff in place will also support us in making sure the care plan patients receive at the start of their journey is consistent, informative and sensitive to patients’ needs.

To make your journey easier, we want to give you as much choice as possible. This includes choice about where to have your treatment and appointments, all the facts about your treatment and the consequences of missing appointments, and choice about end of life care, should you require it.

Supporting you with your physical and mental health is important to us, which is why we have been training practice nurses at your GP surgery to carry out your cancer care reviews. Rather than travel to a hospital for this, you will be able to visit your local surgery where nurses will be able to point you in the direction of further support in your community regarding any aspect of your treatment, recovery and day-to-day pressures.

Example in practice

GPs across Mid and South Essex are now able to offer a new test to patients they think are showing symptoms of colorectal cancer, but do not meet the criteria for a direct referral for cancer-specific tests. The new test can be done by patients at home who then post the sample to a lab. Results will be issued to GPs 72 hours after the lab receives it, allowing GPs to make the correct decision about referral, or put patients’ minds at rest.