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Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Calls to tackle late stage cancer diagnoses in Wales

Written by Johanna Carr

Too many people are being diagnosed with cancer at a late stage, according to a report into services for sufferers in Wales.

The Welsh Government's 2016 Cancer Annual Report, which looked at NHS cancer services provided across the country, highlighted several improvements - including increasing survival rates - but also pointed to problem areas.

Wales has the second highest incidence rate for cancer in the UK, after Scotland, and key areas for improvement identified in Wednesday's report include tackling late diagnosis, addressing lifestyle risks for cancer and improving access to tests and treatment times.

Health secretary Vaughan Gething said the Welsh Government's refreshed cancer delivery plan showed its ambition to "be among the best in Europe".

He said: "To do this, we must detect more cancers at earlier stages, so that patients can get the most benefit from the treatments available. Our annual report outlines how health boards are reorganising services to achieve this."

Those reorganisations include the development of a new route for patients who see their GP with non-specific symptoms, in the Cwm Taf Health Board.

Improved diagnostic services at the Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board, which is now one of two health organisations in the UK to introduce a digital pathology system.

Mr Gething said: "Coupled with Welsh Government investment in scanning technology, waiting times and travel times for patients in North Wales have significantly reduced."

In Abertawe Bro Morgannwg, patients with a suspicious chest X-Ray are now routinely booked in for a CT scan, removing the delay involved in the GP requesting further investigations.

There is also a drive to ensure that patients have the stage of their cancer recorded at diagnosis, as a way of measuring how well services are performing with regards to early diagnosis.

In 2011, less than 42% of all cancers had their stage recorded, according to the report, but by 2015 over 76% of all cancers were having their stage recorded.

The report states: "We will continue to tackle late diagnoses. Too many people are diagnosed through emergency routes.

"This will require us to focus upon a range of activities to support patient awareness, access to GP services, GPs' response to detection and referral of cancer, in particular lung cancer, where survival rates remain lower than other parts of Europe."

The report went on to state that a "high proportion" of patients in Wales were presenting with late stage cancer, leading to "worse survival outcomes", greater treatment burden and a worse quality of life after treatment.

Some of the reasons given for late diagnosis were lack of public awareness symptoms and lack of willingness to bother GPs.

Wales Cancer Network plans to tackle the issue by raising awareness of "alarm" symptoms in certain cancers.

Mr Gething said cancer was affecting increasing numbers of people in Wales but that the NHS was responding.

He said spending on cancer had increased from £307 million in 2011-12 to £409 million in 2014-15. There had been nearly £10 million invested in replacement linear accelerators, used during radiation treatment, while £15 million had been allocated in this year's budgets for improvements in diagnostic technology.

He added: "Cancer survival continues to improve but we know there is more work to do.

"We are committed to continuing to improve and to deliver the best treatment and care to people with cancer in Wales."

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