Review praises North of Scotland cancer alliance

Health regulator enthused by collaboration between six territorial health boards

Thursday 22nd August 2019

Leadership, collaboration and a full focus on improvement within the North of Scotland Cancer Alliance have been praised in a recent review.

Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) – the national inspection and improvement regulator for health services – carried out a review of the Alliance, which oversees cancer pathways operating in Grampian, Highland, Shetland, Tayside, Orkney and Western Isles.

Breaking down barriers between services to improve outcomes for patients is one of the main aims of the nationwide programme of health and social care integration, launched by the Scottish Government in 2016.

In line with this ambition, the report notes positive examples of collaboration across the Alliance:

All individuals we spoke to were enthusiastic regarding the changes in the North Cancer Alliance and expressed a willingness to work together to bring about positive change that will benefit cancer patients in the region,’ reviewers state.

‘…There is an awareness and willingness to see the three cancer centres work more closely together in order to improve the patient care pathway and patient experience.’

One in two people born after 1960 are expected to develop cancer at some point in their lives, and in line with global trends, cancer incidence in the UK is expected to rise by 30% by 2030.

Identifying cancer at the earliest stages therefore is one of the main aims of the Government’s £100m flagship cancer strategy launched in 2016.

Earlier this month, NHS statistics showed poorer Scots were still less likely to be diagnosed with cancer at an early stage than their wealthier counterparts.

However the Alliance has been praised for its efforts to address late presentations of the disease ‘through a number of actions, one of which is the inclusion of GPs and primary care representatives within the governance structure.

This has facilitated direct engagement with GPs through education days. This work has the potential to support primary care colleagues to identify cancer at the earliest opportunity.’

Other areas of good practice identified include NHS Tayside’s open access assessment clinic for breast cancer which allows patients to have all of their pre-surgery assessments in a single day, saving multiple trips to hospital.

Welcoming the report, Grant Archibald, alliance chair, said:

“The leaders of the six health boards across the north of Scotland have fully committed to the Alliance and collectively we are absolutely determined to strengthen our network and make a real difference to patients and their families.

“On their review visits, the Healthcare Improvement Scotland team spoke to many individual clinicians and clinical teams from the three cancer centres.

“Today’s report acknowledges that the clinicians were unanimous in their ambition to see all patients receive consistently high-quality care regardless of which unit or service they access.

“The North Cancer Alliance is actively connecting clinical teams across all three cancer centres in a more coordinated way as we know that there are many benefits to working in this way in terms of how effective and efficient services are.

“However, the quality of the care and treatment, the experiences of patients and their families, and designing services which are truly centred around people remain fundamental to our vision and approach.”

Also highlighted is NHS Grampian’s work to develop a patient website to provide people directly affected by cancer, their carers and friends, and professionals, with guidance and information about the wide range of non-medical support and information available to them.

Mr Archibald added: “We do acknowledge that there are still a number of challenges in delivering cancer services across the north of Scotland – and we are addressing these together.

“The efforts of our lead clinicians in driving improvements by embracing the new, more joined-up approach means that patients are already experiencing the benefits of this in their treatment and care.

“On behalf of the Alliance, I would like to pay tribute to the hard work and commitment of the frontline teams who are delivering high quality care and support, all with the ambition that they want to improve services even further.”

The review has been produced using a new method of evaluation being piloted by HIS, focused on assessment against tumour-specific quality performance indicators.

Annual reviews of regional cancer networks, informed by the methodology developed through this pilot review, are to take place from October 2019 onwards.

A further review of the network’s governance structure will also be carried out next year.