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Royal College of Physicians launches major report into acute oncology services

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has today (24 January) launched a major new report calling for investment in emergency cancer care at the front door.

Drawing on the experiences of patients, doctors, nurses and therapists from around Wales, the RCP is calling on all health boards to invest in acute oncology services (AOS) and ambulatory (same day) care which can improve patient experience and medical outcomes, reduce hospital length of stay, and keep people at home for longer. ​​​

This new report, endorsed by the Society for Acute Medicine, finds that many cancer patients will, at some point in their illness, need specialist emergency cancer care in their local hospital A&E. However, there is an unplanned and unmet need for AOS at the hospital front door across much of Wales, which means that cancer patients can have a very poor experience in a crisis.

Velindre Cancer Centre features heavily in this report, with contributions from staff as well as colleagues from across NHS Wales who work closely with the cancer centre.

One of the principal contributors to the report is Dr Hilary Williams, consultant oncologist at Velindre and Wales Cancer Network lead for acute oncology.

“Wherever a patient lives in Wales, they should be able to access excellent AOS”, said Dr Williams. “When people think about cancer treatment, they might think about undergoing surgery or receiving chemotherapy, radiotherapy or immunotherapy in an organised way, perhaps during weekday hours in a specialist centre.

“But what happens when an emergency arises? What happens if you suddenly become very sick because of your cancer treatment, or a complication arises overnight or during the weekend? What happens if a cancer diagnosis is made during a visit to a hospital emergency department?”

An acute cancer admission can mean that a patient’s condition is getting worse, but early review and rapid assessment by the right team can lead to quicker discharge and help to avoid readmission. This can drastically improve the experience of patients and their families during an emergency.

Wherever a patient lives in Wales, they should be able to access high quality, supportive and patient-centred AOS. All health boards should put a plan in place for how they will meet the needs of these thousands of patients, including:

  • Investment in specialist staff
  • Protected time for AOS in job plans
  • Multidisciplinary team approach
  • Closer regional collaboration

“During one of the most frightening times of your life, you should be treated by someone who understands what you’re going through and can help you with expert advice,” Dr Williams continues.

“This is where AOS teams come in. These are highly trained specialist nurses, doctors and therapists who can support you and your family through an unexpected cancer crisis.

“Our incredible staff are at the heart of what we do. Recruiting and retaining specialist staff is absolutely vital, and a truly multidisciplinary team is key to high-quality patient experience.”