Cancer services in Kent and Medway - the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance
In 2015, an independent cancer taskforce strategy set out an ambitious vision for improving services, care and outcomes for everyone with cancer: fewer people getting cancer, more people surviving cancer, more people having a good experience of their treatment and care, whoever they are and wherever they live, and more people being supported.
The NHS Long Term Plan also made a huge commitment to improving cancer care, diagnosis and survival rates by 2028.
Cancer alliances were set up across England to drive the change needed to achieve these aims.
Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance
Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance brings together clinicians and managers from health, social care and other services to transform the diagnosis, treatment and care for cancer patients. These partnerships enable care to be more effectively planned across local cancer pathways.
The alliance is made up of many stakeholders, including:
- healthcare providers from across Kent and Medway (acute and community providers, primary care)
- health service commissioners (Clinical Commissioning Groups)
- NHS England and NHS Improvement
- patient representatives
- voluntary and charitable organisations (such as Macmillan, Cancer Research UK)
- National Institute for Health Research
- Public Health
- Integrated Care Partnership representation
- Integrated Care System representation
It also has strong links with neighbouring cancer alliances in south east London, Surrey and Sussex. It is aligned to and working within the emerging Integrated Care System (ICS) in Kent and Medway.
The alliance also works closely with:
NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group which plans, buys and monitors local health services in Kent and Medway
- Kent and Medway Cancer Collaborative which is a collection of organisations, services and stakeholders working together to increase cancer survival
- Kent and Medway Cancer Action Partnership, which works to involve patients in service development. The alliance is committed to involving patients and service users in its plans to improve cancer care across the county and to make sure their voices are heard.
Priorities for improvement
In its delivery plan for 2021/22, the alliance is focused on improving eight main areas:
- early diagnosis: screening, surveillance
- referrals: numbers and inequalities
- diagnostics: Rapid diagnostic services and faster diagnostic standard (FDS)
- performance: Cancer waiting times and over 62 days
- treatment: capacity, variation, radiotherapy, genomics
- personalised care: stratified follow ups, psychosocial support
Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance is led by:
Miles Scott, Executive Cancer Lead and Chief Executive of Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust
Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Lead and Clinical Oncologist at the Kent Oncology Centre
Ian Vousden, Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance Programme Director
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Latest news from the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance
Kent and Medway has been selected as one of eight areas of the country to take part in the world’s largest trial of a revolutionary new blood test that can detect more than 50 types of cancer before symptoms appear.
People in Dartford will be among the first to have blood samples taken at mobile testing clinics in retail parks and other convenient community locations in the area.
The potentially lifesaving Galleri™ test checks for the earliest signs of cancer in the blood and the NHS-Galleri trial, the first of its kind, aims to recruit 140,000 volunteers nationally, including thousands in Kent and Medway, to see how well the test works in the NHS.
Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Lead at Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, which is involved in co-ordinating the trial locally, said:
“Diagnosing cancer as early as possible means patients can start treatment before their cancer progresses, and improve their chances of survival. We are therefore very pleased to be part of this trial which brings us an opportunity to diagnose cancer in people who haven’t yet recognised any symptoms. If you are invited to take part, please help us help you and follow the instructions to visit your local site.”
Vaughan Lewis, Medical Director for the South East Region, which includes Kent and Medway, said: “We are really excited to be taking part in this new trial which could revolutionise the early recognition of cancer. Early diagnosis and treatment of patients is less traumatic and offers significant long-term benefits including a better chance of survival.”
To help answer this question, asked by around 1,800* patients each week across Kent and Medway, new guides are now available to clearly explain the process.
They have been produced by Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance in response to feedback from patients. Many said they felt unsure about what to expect and needed a clearer understanding about what happened after they had been referred by their GP for tests to diagnose or rule out cancer.
A further guide has also been created to explain what happens once a diagnosis of cancer is confirmed.
You said, we did
Tracey Ryan, Macmillan User Involvement Manager with Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “The guides were produced in response to comments from patients. As well as basic information about who would be likely to contact them, at what point and how, patients also wanted more guidance on things like whether they should cancel planned holidays, or be available at any time at short notice during the two-week period.
“Some patients said they were really concerned they were being seen so quickly, thinking that it was really serious; they did not realise it is normal to be seen within two weeks if their GP thinks there’s even a slight possibility of cancer.
“We hope these new guides go some way towards helping reassure patients and their loved ones, giving answers to some of these questions along with some trusted websites to take a look at.”
The guides are available from GP practices, for download on this page and from the hospitals where patients go for tests. The guide for explaining the two-week wait process is also available in an accessible easy read format.
When you are referred for tests
Dr Rakesh Koria, NHS Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group’s Cancer and Quality and Education Lead and Macmillan GP Associate Advisor for Kent and Medway, said: “We realise it can be very worrying for patients when we refer them for a suspected cancer. However, I would like to reassure people that nine out of 10 referrals for suspected cancer do not turn out to be cancer at all.”
“However, it is very important when you are offered an appointment or investigations, you take them up to exclude cancer and, in some cases, diagnose any other non-cancerous illnesses, which may be causing your symptoms or to simply reassure you there is no serious underlying illness.
“Patients will be able to takeaway these guides from their GP practice, share them with family, if they wish, and refer to them at each stage so they know what to expect next.”
Visiting hospital for tests
Patients should not be worried about visiting hospitals for diagnostic tests. Hospitals have put measures in place to protect patients and staff from Covid and it is safe to visit for procedures, such as an endoscopy. If you are unable to attend for your appointment, please let the hospital know as soon as you can.
Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Oncologist at the Kent Oncology Centre, Maidstone, and Clinical Lead for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “Patient safety is a priority. We have a range of measures in place, including Covid-secure wards and Covid-protected cancer surgical services, to make sure we can continue to give quality care to patients when they need it.”
*In April 2021, there were around 1,800 patients a week on two-week wait referrals in Kent and Medway.
Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance supports Prostate Cancer UK in their drive to raise awareness of the condition and encourage men who are at highest risk to contact their GP.
Men at greatest risk include those over 50 (the risk increases the older you get), black men, and men with a close family history of the disease (for example, a brother or father who had prostate cancer). Recent research has also suggested that obesity increases the risk of developing faster-growing prostate cancers.
Men can find out more about their risk by using the Prostate Cancer UK online risk checker. Since September 2020 over 140,000 men have completed this and been given advice about their own risk and what they should do next.
'It's a no-brainer'
Chris Wheal, 77, from Maidstone, has been treated successfully for prostate cancer and adds his voice to the call for men not to be shy.
He said: “Prostate cancer is very treatable if caught early; not delaying, getting checked if you’re high risk, and if needs be, getting treated is a total no brainer. Treatment options are varied but my experience was that it was nothing worse than a bit inconvenient, which pales into insignificance when potentially halting cancer in its tracks.”
Prostate cancer is now the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK. Early diagnosis saves lives and greatly improves cancer survival rates. However, urgent referrals by GPs have dropped by around 52,000 nationally since the pandemic began. As a result, around 8,600 fewer men started treatment for prostate cancer in 2020 compared with the previous year.
Unless these ‘missing men’ are found, they risk being diagnosed too late, when their cancer is advanced or incurable.
NHS is here to help
Dr Tina George, a GP and Early Diagnosis Lead for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “We understand that many men may feel embarrassed about talking to their GP about this, or about the prospect of being examined by a doctor.
“However, it is important that men understand if they are at higher risk of prostate cancer because early diagnosis saves lives. We back the advice from Prostate Cancer UK for patients to make contact with their GP and have that first conversation. Sadly, we see many cases where men have been too shy to come forward and their cancer is more advanced when it is finally diagnosed, making it more difficult to treat. The NHS is here to support you – please don’t delay getting help if you need it.”
Prostate cancer usually develops slowly so, unlike other cancers, there may be no signs for many years.
A cancer patient who was diagnosed during the first lockdown and has now had her cancer successfully removed echoes NHS advice to get worrying symptoms checked out as soon as possible.
Miriam McGuirk (pictured top right), from Romney Marsh, Kent, urged others not to hesitate to see their GP if they noticed anything unusual. She added that during her recent experience, she was cared for safely, quickly and with empathy. She said she felt safe attending her GP practice and hospitals for tests and treatment throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.
Miriam said: “I knew something was amiss, and then the lump felt more prominent and became painful. I realised that I couldn’t leave it. I would say to anyone who notices anything – do not hesitate to get it checked out, it is better sooner rather than later. You will be looked after and cared for.”
It is also important that patients continue with any ongoing treatments, such as routine endoscopy, and follow the advice of their clinician and hospital to help keep themselves safe while accessing care.
Early diagnosis is so important
Dr Tina George, a GP and Clinical Lead for Early Diagnosis with the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, emphasised that early diagnosis could save your life.
She said: “Catching a cancer in its early stages can, in some cases, be the difference between whether it is treatable or not. It may not be anything serious, but it is better to get it checked out.
“We have introduced a range of measures to ensure the safety of patients, including making GP practices Covid-secure and offering phone and digital appointments where clinically appropriate. Please do not hesitate to make an appointment to see us if you have any symptoms of concern – we will not think that you are wasting our time.”
What symptoms should I look out for?
Symptoms that could be a sign of cancer include (but are not limited to):
- unexplained blood that doesn’t come from an obvious injury (such as blood in your poo or pee),
- an unexplained lump
- weight loss which feels significant to you
- an unexplained, persistent pain
- for abdominal cancers, signs sometimes include; persistent diarrhoea, bloating and discomfort in the tummy
Many people with the above symptoms will not have cancer but it is always worth discussing this with your GP.
Afraid to seek help
In a survey of 2,178 people last year, the NHS found that almost half (48%) would delay or not seek medical help at all because of Covid-19. A fifth (22%) did not want to burden the NHS and a similar number said fear of getting coronavirus or passing it onto others was a major reason for not seeking help.
However, from March to September 2020, more than 38,300 people across Kent and Medway were urgently referred; over 96% of them were subsequently seen by a specialist within two weeks. Cancer treatment levels were maintained at over 81% of 2019 levels during the height of the pandemic– showing that the NHS is there for people when they need it.
Patient safety a priority
Dr Henry Taylor, a Clinical Oncologist at the Kent Oncology Centre, Maidstone, and Clinical Lead for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “Patient safety is a priority. We have introduced a range of measures, including Covid-secure wards and Covid-protected cancer surgical services, to ensure that we can continue to give quality care to cancer patients when they need it. Patients should not be afraid to use the NHS, we are still here for you.”
Patients not attending urgent endoscopies because of fears of Covid-19 are at risk of missing the opportunity for diagnosis and treatment of serious conditions such as cancer, warn doctors.
Around 10% of patients across Kent and Medway are not attending or choosing to delay their endoscopy procedure because of worries about catching the virus.
Patients are urged to attend for their urgent endoscopy because their doctor thinks they may have a serious condition, possibly cancer, which needs investigating.
Watch our short animation
If you are booked for an endoscopy and are anxious about what to expect, watch our short video below.
However, if you do intend to cancel, please give as much notice as possible so that your appointment can be given to another patient who needs it.
Dr Henry Taylor, Clinical Director for the Kent and Medway Cancer Alliance, said: “If you have been referred for an urgent endoscopy, the risk of missing a diagnosis and any possible treatment far outweighs what is a low risk of catching any infection in hospital. I urge you to attend if you can.”
Hospital teams are taking significant steps to minimise the risk of Covid-19, which include stringent infection controls and the use of PPE, including a requirement for all staff and patients to wear masks. Only patients without any Covid-19 symptoms are allowed into non-Covid areas of hospitals, where endoscopy clinics are based. Social distancing, hand hygiene and frequent surface cleaning are enforced. In endoscopy units, all clinical staff are in PPE, rooms are deep cleaned after each procedure, including filtering rooms’ air between patients.
For further information about your endoscopy, visit: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/endoscopy/