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Experts call for close scrutiny of new cancer centres

BMJ 2007; 334 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39139.476875.4E (Published 01 March 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;334:447
  1. Lynn Eaton
  1. London

    Community based units that provide care for patients with cancer, which are likely to emerge over the coming years in the United Kingdom, should have formal links to at least one established cancer centre, advises a joint report from the Royal College of Radiologists and the Royal College of Physicians. The staff in such units should participate in the working groups of their local cancer networks, it says.

    The colleges also want the units to submit data on activity, complications, and outcomes to the local cancer networks.

    The colleges' concerns stem from the government's plans to shift cancer services out of hospitals and into the community. They fear that standards could be compromised as a result. And with an aging population the number of people needing cancer treatment is going to increase, so more centres providing cancer care will be needed, they predict.

    “The demand for cancer treatment will grow dramatically as the number of elderly patients in our population increases,” said Ian Gilmore, president of the Royal College of Physicians. “Devolved radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment centres, combined with established NHS cancer services, have the potential to widen the range of services available across the country, to bring down waiting times, and to make treatment more convenient.”

    But the report, from the colleges' joint collegiate council for oncology, says that the reconfiguration of the NHS and the greater use of independent treatment centres and other providers must not dilute standards of care.

    Janet Husband, president of the Royal College of Radiologists, said it was vitally important that clear guidelines be produced to ensure that patients receive the highest quality treatment for cancer in the correct time frame, whatever the setting.

    “Patient safety and the quality of the service they receive should be paramount,” Professor Husband said. “This paper builds on previous work done by the colleges to set out those guidelines in a clear and unambiguous way, outlining the ways in which all providers can adhere to the very highest standards of care.”

    The report also says that there will be times when patients will need to attend a centre that is not their nearest one. “Convenience of access should not be allowed to compromise quality of care as this would risk impairing important long-term outcomes for patients,” it says. And patients should be offered the same possibilities to be included in a clinical trial as they would at a cancer centre, it adds.

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