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Cancer Outcomes and Health Inequalities: How Can We Improve? 

health inequalities

In March, Chamber hosted the first ‘Integrating Healthcare’ seminar session in Manchester. A variety of different panels took place relating to challenges that Integrated Care Systems (ICS) are facing.

The final panel session concerned health inequalities within cancer outcomes and how integrated care can help to improve this nationally. This session was hosted by Angela McFarlane, Senior Vice President at IQVIA. She was joined by three experts in the field — Alastair Richards, Chief Executive Officer at North-West Cancer Research, Marie-Andrée Gamache, Country President of Novartis UK and Ireland, and Ben Bridgewater, Chief Executive of Health Innovation Manchester.

Opening remarks 

To kick things off, each of the panellists were given the opportunity to speak about their experience and interests within the field. Alastair Richards stated that at North-West Cancer Research, their mission is to “highlight and address cancer inequalities in the North-West. Unfortunately, parts of the North-West have higher than national averages for cancer diagnoses and for late cancer diagnoses. It’s our job to change that.”

Marie-Andrée Gamache was next — discussing Novartis’ recent signing of a health inequality pledge focusing on four elements, she contended “we will understand access issues to cancer care. Second, we will look at new and innovative ways to support patients in the healthcare system. Third, we will make sure that health inequalities are tackled at the beginning of our research. Finally, we will focus on making an impact in the community”.

Finally, Ben Bridgewater explained how his beliefs were shaped through his career as a cardiac surgeon. He said “I would see some patients who got a lot from their local cardiac surgery services and some who didn’t. The world isn’t equal and we, as a professional team, didn’t do enough about it. I spent some time researching and publishing outcomes data and we made some progress but didn’t solve health inequalities. Thanks to COVID-19 though, inequalities are now finally at the top of the agenda.”

Addressing health inequalities: one size doesn’t fit all 

A main focus point of the seminar was the importance of addressing health inequalities at the start of people’s healthcare journeys. Richards stated that this is “critical” as greater awareness around cancer signs and symptoms increases the chances of GP visits — vital for early diagnosis. 

Bridgewater agreed, before addressing how innovation and data can play a key part in ensuring inequalities are addressed early on. He stated “you should be asking yourselves questions like ‘Have we got the right people with the right skills?’ ‘Is our culture right?’, ‘Do we have the right technology?’. We also need to gather data on patients who have experience living with cancer to understand what the barriers are. One size doesn’t fit all when tackling inequalities so this data is essential”. 

Moreover, Bridgewater asserted that “we still don’t have enough data expertise in the NHS.”

The role of industry partners 

Integrated Care Systems (ICS) often utilise industry partners to provide services and support as they are able to help address specific healthcare needs. In terms of cancer outcomes, Gamache believes that industry partners are key to understanding data. She stated that “we need to be thinking of health inequalities when first introducing new innovation and the best way to do that is to understand the patient journey and their needs. So, when partners are brought in, they are brought in knowing what they need to do so they can tailor solutions from the very beginning”. 

She contended that their approach to ICS involves a ‘triple win check’ before suggesting solutions — a win for patients, a win for the company and a win for the system. 

Bridgewater, on the other hand, spoke about the importance of congregating a team of highly knowledgeable individuals. By including a range of people in the process such as industry colleagues, academic colleagues, NHS staff and digital colleagues, he states that multidisciplinary teams can be empowered to “move things forward”.

Improving cancer outcomes: the priorities 

Finally, the panel discussed the future priorities for improving cancer outcomes. Richards acknowledged early diagnosis before exploring a “personalisation agenda”, inspired by social care. He asserted that “in social care, they wrap a service around each individual patient by gaining an understanding on their family life, social life, and needs whereas we don’t do that in healthcare”.

Richards notes that unfortunately, NHS hospital cancer treatment is often “extremely impersonal and instead, we should wrap a service around them so that the service is ready for you when you arrive so that you feel like the centre of the service, not the consultant.”

Final thought

The panel discussion highlighted the importance of addressing health inequalities in cancer care and the role that ICS can play in improving outcomes. The panellists emphasised the need for early diagnosis and personalised care, as well as the importance of industry partners and multidisciplinary teams in driving change. 

However, it is also important to recognise that addressing health inequalities is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. While ICS can play a role in improving cancer outcomes, they must also address the broader social determinants of health that contribute to inequalities in the first place. By taking a holistic approach to healthcare and working collaboratively across sectors, we can make strides towards reducing health inequalities and improving cancer outcomes for all.

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