Today, more people are living longer with - and surviving - cancer than ever before. Better treatment and better understanding of the disease are helping to improve the quality of life of people living with cancer, and so a phrase that has always been at the heart of what we do at Maggie's (www.maggiescentres.org) 'living well with cancer' has become a possibility for more and more people. At the same time, longer life expectancy generally means more people are expected to have cancer at some point in their life. In the UK there are currently 2 million people living with or after cancer; this figure is steadily rising, with more than 300,000 new diagnoses each year.1 In other words, it is estimated that half of us will have cancer at some point in our lifetime.1
The rising number of those living with a cancer diagnosis means that people are experiencing new, long-term psychological and physical consequences as a result of cancer and its treatment. As the number continues to rise, so the demand for support and care increases, putting pressure on limited NHS resources. The rising demand means that collaboration with the voluntary sector and recognition of the role it can play has never been more vital for the future of cancer care.
The voluntary sector and the NHS have shared values: we both want the best for people with cancer and their families. But we are not always good at recognizing what else outside cancer treatment may be helpful in supporting people fully. We agree that management of care should be proactive, holistic, preventive and person-focused. But, as most people working in the NHS and voluntary sector would acknowledge, there is still some way to go to reach a truly coordinated approach to treatment, support and care.
There are many voluntary and community organizations providing health and care services in the UK, and the NHS is increasingly looking to them for long-term partnerships rather than 'quick fix' solutions. Instead of simply helping people once they are ill, the mission must be to support people to live well, to prevent ill health where possible, and to reach the most vulnerable people in society. In order to achieve this, the NHS needs to acknowledge its own limitations and share them with the voluntary sector. There are, however, many barriers to overcome before this can happen effectively. The biggest of these is that the NHS is such a vast and complex organization that it can be difficult to get a foothold on sharing issues effectively. With hospitals and practices all over the country, initiating a high level of change is a huge challenge.
The essence of the NHS Five year forward view, a plan published in 2014 by NHS England, is to ...