Emergency cancer care 'must improve'

In collaboration with the Press Association

More must be done to improve emergency care for people with cancer, according to a new joint report from The Royal College of Physicians and The Royal College of Radiologists

The report, entitled Cancer patients in crisis: responding to urgent needs, looks at how cancer patients are treated when their condition suddenly deteriorates and they need emergency medical care.

It found that these patients often receive "fragmented" treatment from a number of different doctors and specialists. There is also a lack of planning for situations where emergency care is required, the authors said.

They recommend that a more "proactive" approach would ensure that patients, carers and doctors are more prepared to respond in an emergency situation.

According to the report, many cancer patients and their carers do not know what to expect or who to contact when they are admitted to hospital for emergency care.

It recommends that different teams of specialists should communicate with each other, and with patients, to help provide a more coordinated system of care.

A series of proposals are set out in the report to help hospitals provide better care for cancer patients who are admitted in an emergency.

It recommends standards of good practice that the authors say would reduce the risk to patients, and improve the outcome of their care.

Martin Ledwick, head information nurse at Cancer Research UK, said: "It's really important that patients make informed decisions about treatment and care. To do this they need to have clear information and have realistic expectations set of what the risks and benefits of any medical care might be."

He added that it is important for patients to know how to get medical care quickly in certain situations, such as when they are having chemotherapy and at risk of side effects or complications. But when patients are close to dying - and treatments are unlikely to make any difference - it is important for both patients and their carers to know when they need to have palliative care rather than emergency services.

RCR president Dr Jane Barrett said communicating with patients was one of the most important aspects of cancer care.

She 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 patients understand their treatment and can decide what is best for them. Cancer treatment cannot be a one-sided process."

Copyright Press Association 2012