The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre was the first trust in the UK to introduce a national initiative which integrates oncology consultants and cancer nurse specialists into the teams looking after patients who arrive at hospital needing urgent, unplanned care. Now, the acute oncology programme has ensured 10,000 patients who need emergency treatment in Merseyside and Cheshire have had rapid access to dedicated cancer experts who can provide specialist assessment and input into their care, therefore improving treatment and significantly reducing the duration of hospital admission.
A national review in 2010 found that one in five cancer-related emergencies were due to the disease being suspected or diagnosed for the first time. It also found that nearly half of cancer-related emergences were due to cancer-related complications. In response, The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre developed a network of oncology experts who would support acute medical teams at seven hospitals across Merseyside and Cheshire. This ensures that specialist cancer assessment and care can be provided, a specialist service that was previously not available.
Dr Ernie Marshall, one of the UK’s leading experts in acute oncology and a consultant in medical oncology at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, said: “For patients presenting to A&E with cancer-related symptoms for the first time, early assessment by oncology experts can be crucial. Early, accurate diagnosis and swift referral to the right treatment can dramatically improve patient care and in some cases prove life-saving. What’s more, 45 per cent of acute oncology patients have been admitted due to complications with cancer, so ensuring that experts in this field offer assessment and treatment can significantly help their recovery.
“As a result of the initiative in the region, the average length of stay in hospital for oncology patients has decreased by 20 per cent to 9.8 days which is testament to the improvement in specialist care that our patients are provided,” Dr Marshall added. “It shows patients are being assessed, diagnosed and cared for in a more timely manner so they are able and well enough to leave hospital after a shorter stay.”
Dr Helen Neville-Webbe, a consultant at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre and research lead for acute oncology continued: “We estimate that well over 90 per cent of our patients have been seen by oncology consultants and specialist nurses within 24 hours of being referred to the acute oncology service, and all of them are seen within 48 hours. This means that each and every one of these patients have received the best possible treatment as well as the psychological support and advice they need.
“The acute oncology service has demonstrated that a combination of cancer specialists working in partnership with the best acute medical experts at the region’s acute hospitals can lead to improved outcomes and a better prognosis for our patients.”
One patient who has benefited from the service is Sandra Abbott, from Upton on the Wirral. Sandra went to her GP with a suspected chest infection in May 2013 but became more and more unwell and was eventually admitted to her local hospital, Arrowe Park. Sandra commented: “I felt incredibly poorly and it was a struggle to even get out of bed. On May 15th I had an operation to remove a litre of fluid from around my heart. We thought at this point I had a blood clot, but cancer cells were found inside the fluid when they were analysed after the operation and I was told I had cancer on May 24th. I was absolutely shocked. To go from a suspected chest infection to being diagnosed with cancer in such a short space of time was unbelievable. By June, I had started my chemotherapy at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre.
“Having cancer specialists on hand at Arrowe Park made this speedy process possible and I’m so grateful for the expert care I received. I was admitted back into Arrowe Park midway through my chemotherapy as I had some severe side effects as a result of the treatment. Again, the cancer specialists based at my local hospital were able to help me through that difficult time with the specialist care I needed.” Sandra is now in remission from her cancer and visits her specialist, Dr Richard Griffiths, consultant in medical oncology at The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre, every three months for a check-up.
The acute oncology service officially launched in 2010 and The Clatterbridge Cancer Centre became the first site in the UK to implement it across all of its networked sites in the region. Other areas have now followed suit with similar services being established at sites across the UK.