Cancer survivors need 'recovery package', ministers say

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Media captionCancer survivor, Sonia Wilson: "I felt like I was on my own"

All cancer patients should receive a "recovery package" at the end of their treatment offering ongoing support, the Department of Health (DoH) has said.

Some three in four patients are not given enough information on coping with long-term effects of the illness, its report with a leading charity suggests.

It calls for care targeting patients' financial, mental and physical needs.

Health minister Anna Soubry urged the NHS in England and local NHS teams to take "urgent action".

The call comes as a national survey of cancer survivors indicated about a quarter of people were feeling isolated after being treated for the illness - according to the DoH.

And almost 30% said they had numerous issues that were not being addressed, including fears about their cancer spreading.

Macmillan Cancer Support, which helped develop proposals for a recovery plan, estimated that about 200,000 people were not getting a package of support following their treatment.

Nor were they being told how to contact someone outside of routine follow-ups if they had any problems.

The group's report calls for a recovery package that would provide a checklist for doctors and nurses to assess what emotional, physical and practical needs a patient might have after their treatment has ended.

This would include referrals to mental health or social services, as well as advice about financial support.

Care plans would also point patients towards physical activity services to help them regain their strength and fitness.

'Closer conversation'

Public health minister Anna Soubry said there were currently about 1.8m people who were being or had been treated for cancer - a figure set to rise to 3.4m by 2030.

"This joint document calls on NHS England and local NHS teams to take urgent action and consider our recommendations when they provide cancer services based on their local community's needs.

"Whether it's specialist help to get back to work, or being recommended to do a physical activity group, local NHS teams need to consider providing a new range of care services for cancer survivors to tackle their needs and improve their quality of life."

Ciaran Devane, chief executive of Macmillan Cancer Support, said that many cancer patients were crying out for this type of personalised support.

"If the NHS does one thing for cancer survivors it should be to commission this recovery package for its local population.

"We also need to keep on top of how cancer patients' quality of life is affected long-term."

Dr Frances Goodhart, a consultant clinical psychologist who works with cancer patients, said people needed to be given a realistic understanding of what recovery would involve, adding: "So often people are sent home with a message of just go home, pick up the pieces, make up for lost time - and actually, as we know, the consequences of cancer treatment are far more complicated."

Macmillan spokeswoman Nicola Cook added that regular contact with doctors was key to improving the system.

"We want GPs to be starting to have a much closer conversation and relationship with the cancer patient so that they're taking that information and they're seeing their GP say every three months - and the GP's asking them how things are.

"How are things at home? How's life at home? How's your marriage? How's your relationship? Are financial worries a concern? How's your mood? And so it's about having that community support in place by the GP and by other services so that people can live their life."

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