The Disraeli Room

The Disraeli Room

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Compassionate care can’t be an extra – it must be at the heart of planning for a future NHS

29th September 2014

A recurring phrase of this week’s labour party conference was that we need to make sure that all NHS staff ‘have time to care’. It is promising to see the importance of a caring environment in the NHS getting such a high profile in plans for the general election. Over the last five years we’ve also seen the current government make great strides in improving compassion in the NHS with the introduction of a new inspection model for the quality of care and I await announcements from the Conservative and Lib Dem conferences with anticipation.

However despite all these commitments the latest results from England’s largest annual survey on the experience of cancer patients in hospital (the Cancer Patient Experience Survey or CPES) didn’t show the positive picture that I was hoping to see two and a half years after the publication of the Francis Inquiry. There has only been a 1% increase in the last two years in the proportion of people who say they were always treated with respect and dignity by staff. What’s more Macmillan Cancer Support’s recent public poll shows that two fifths of people who have been in hospital, or know someone close them that has, say they have been treated with a lack of dignity and compassion during a stay in the last five years. [1]

It is of course no mean feat that the quality of care in the NHS has stayed the same despite the ever growing number of cancer patients which passes through its doors. By 2030 the number of people living with cancer will have doubled from two million to four. [2]

Yet it is still worrying that we aren’t seeing any great improvements either. We know that too many cancer patients are shown a lack of compassion whilst going through treatment with one in six patients saying that doctors talked in front of them as if they weren’t there. Around one in five feel treated as a set of cancer symptoms rather than a whole person. This can be distressing for patients and at its worst can put lives at risk. [3]

Interestingly a key finding from this year’s analysis of CPES shows that a patient having a dedicated Cancer Nurse is the one most important factor for ensuring that people feel treated with dignity and respect throughout their treatment, whatever type of cancer they have. [4]

This supports Macmillan’s findings on the importance of the relationship and communication between staff and patients on creating a positive experience of care for patients. Staff after all are likely to be the main contact patients have during a stay in hospital and small acts of kindness, like calling someone by their preferred name or taking the time to have a cup of tea with them can make such a big different to someone’s day.

Worryingly however, research shows that a significant number of frontline staff are overworked and lack the emotional support, training and time they need to deliver the best possible care. Frontline staff work extremely hard with little time to spare, to reflect on their practice or attend training and development programmes and managers are often busy meeting all consuming targets. It is difficult for them to find the space to prioritise staff or patient wellbeing.

Without significant improvements in cancer staff training and wellbeing Macmillan is concerned it will be difficult to see a real widespread change in the culture of the NHS and therefore the levels of compassion with which patients are treated.

Given the pressure that staff in the NHS are under, it is politicians who have the opportunity to ensure NHS staff are getting the support they need to deliver better care. So whilst this week’s CPES results are satisfactory there is much more that political parties need to do to deliver an improved experience of care for patients.

If we want to see widespread improvement in compassionate care across the NHS as a whole we need the next government to fully commit to national policies which will tackle this. The upcoming general election is the perfect opportunity to do so. Macmillan is urging all main political parties to commit in their general election manifestos to ensuring that every single patient is treated with the highest levels of dignity and respect and that staff are supported to deliver this.

For further information, please contact:

Charlotte Morris, Media and PR Officer, Macmillan Cancer Support
0207 091 2467 (out of hours 07801 307068)

Notes to Editors:

About Macmillan Cancer Support

When you have cancer, you don’t just worry about what will happen to your body, you worry about what will happen to your life. Whether it’s concerns about who you can talk to, planning for the extra costs or what to do about work, at Macmillan we understand how a cancer diagnosis can take over everything.

That’s why we’re here. We provide support that helps people take back control of their lives. But right now, we can’t reach everyone who needs us. We need your help to make sure that people affected by cancer get the support they need to face the toughest fight of their life. No one should face cancer alone, and with your support no one will.

To get involved, call 0300 1000 200 today. And please remember, we’re here for you too. If you’d like support, information or just to chat, call us free on 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm) or visit


[1] Macmillan Cancer Support/ You Gov online poll of 2,454 GB adults aged 18 Fieldwork undertaken 1-5th August. Survey results have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults. 39% figure is based on those who said they or someone they know had been in hospital in the last five years (75% of the total survey sample, 1,841 GB adults 18 ).

[2] NHS England. Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2014. Q39. (Accessed September 2014)

[3] NHS England. Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2014. Q69. (Accessed September 2014)

[4] NHS England. Cancer Patient Experience Survey 2014. (Accessed September 2014)

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