Lung cancer experts call for improvements in NHS care

In collaboration with the Press Association

A new report suggests that while improvements have been made in the prevention of lung cancer in the UK, as well as in areas such as disease awareness and screening, certain aspects of care require urgent attention.

A review by the United Kingdom Lung Cancer Coalition (UKLCC) claims that while progress has been made, further improvements are needed in a number of key areas, including diagnosis, treatment rates and access to specialists.

Research has shown that the UK's survival rates from lung cancer do not compare favourably with the rest of Europe, with only a quarter of patients living for a year following their diagnosis.

According to UKLCC, one-third of patients do not receive a biopsy to confirm their diagnosis of lung cancer, while a lack of experienced specialist surgeons means that thousands of patients are unable to undergo potentially life-saving surgery.

Early detection of lung cancer is vital if patients are to have a good chance of survival, and access to specialist surgeons is essential for those patients who are eligible for surgery.

Dr Mick Peake, chair of the UKLCC's clinical advisory group and NHS national clinical lead for lung cancer, revealed: "There are only 44 full-time equivalent specialist thoracic surgeons spread thinly over 240 multidisciplinary cancer teams across the country and many teams lack core members.

"Alarmingly, patients who are fit for surgery are being turned down."

Dr Peake said that in some parts of the UK, fewer than ten per cent of patients receive any form of treatment to halt the spread of the disease.

Speaking on behalf of the UKLCC, he said: "We are calling for a 70 per cent active treatment rate across the board, which would mean a massive reduction in the number of lung cancer deaths. Up to 3,000 lives could potentially be saved each year as a result."

Dame Gill Oliver, chair of the UKLCC, said that the comprehensive review suggests the NHS is "still letting lung cancer patients down" and that there are "huge variations and vast inequalities in care across the country".

She also suggested that if the best standards of care are applied across the country, "we can double one-year survival by 2015 and five-year survival by 2020".

However, Dame Gill also welcomed steps taken in the right direction.

Writing in an introduction to the UKLCC report, she praised the publication of the NHS Cancer Reform Strategy, the introduction of anti-smoking regulations in public places and workplaces, and investment in new clinical trials and research.

She also welcomed the establishment of the National Cancer Intelligence Network, but emphasised that "much more still needs to be done".

"The need to move forward in lung cancer prevention, early diagnosis, treatment and supportive care is clear and urgent," Dame Gill observed.

"Whatever the cause of their disease, all lung cancer patients deserve the best standards of care and support."

Sarah Woolnough, Cancer Research UK's head of policy, said: "We are very concerned by the report's findings about the large number of lung cancer patients who still don't receive treatment. This is partly due to some lung cancers being diagnosed at a later stage, when treatment might not be possible. But we also know that there are differences depending on where you live and socioeconomic status.

"Lung cancer outcomes remain poor and this report highlights that we need to take urgent action to ensure that all patients, no matter where they live and their circumstances, are offered the best treatment possible."