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How East Cheshire NHS is tackling a major cancer problem

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East Cheshire faces a serious issue with head and neck cancer, with missed target times and inefficient practices leading to worsening outcomes for patients.

That’s prompted officials from the NHS Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) to come up with a plan of action to tackle the problem — but as Cheshire East councillors heard this week, it’s hit a snag.

Since 2014, the East Cheshire NHS Trust and Manchester Foundational Trust (MFT) have co-delivered the head and neck cancer pathway. This means that patients are seen by staff at Macclesfield Hospital for diagnostic tests — and if malignant cells are detected, then the patient will be referred on to Wythenshawe for surgery or, if sadly needed, East Cheshire’s own palliative care team for supportive care.

In a presentation to CEC’s health scrutiny committee, the CCG said just 10% of patients in the borough were seen at Macclesfield within the 62-day target time in Q3 of 2019/20 — against a desired level of 85%.

Simon Goff, chief operating officer of East Cheshire NHS Trust, told the committee: “There is no one stop service - which is where a patient gets diagnostics all on the same day. Biopsies are not always up to the standards required so patients need to have it again. This is a key weakness in the existing service.”

The lack of a ‘one stop service’ means there are no on-site pathology services — so samples are taken off-site for testing, and with biopsies needing to be analysed within 24 hours of collection, it results in 39% of all patients having to undergo the procedure again.

So what did East Cheshire do about it?

The first step was to launch a consultation, with 64 former patients out of roughly 300 eligible providing feedback to the Trust over the summer. The ‘robust’ consultation, saw patients express their desire to ‘know what is going on as soon as possible’, with the ‘issue of travel being outweighed by [the desire for] a quick diagnosis’.

Fortunately for health chiefs in Cheshire, there are ‘outstanding’ hospitals surrounding the county — with the Care Quality Commission giving top marks to hospitals in Salford, St Helens, and The Christie in Didsbury.

So with East Cheshire’s patients happy to travel a distance in order to gain a quick and accurate diagnosis, and the existing partnership with Manchester’s trust, officials are proposing moving some patients experiencing positive diagnoses and ‘bad news’ cases to MFT sites, such as The Christie or Wythenshawe Hospital.

The idea is that ‘neck lump’ patients will be immediately sent to Wythenshawe, with all other patients undergoing initial tests in Macclesfield first before being either sent home with the all clear, or referred on.

Biopsies will be done in Wythenshawe, as will ‘breaking bad news’ appointments — where patients are told of a positive cancer diagnosis.

Officials say this solution ‘would start to address some of the clinical and performance concerns’ by cutting the average diagnosis wait time from four weeks down to one, reducing the amount of appointments patients need to attend, and allowing for continuity of care throughout treatment.

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Source: Knutsford Guardian, 10 October 2020

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