£750,000 inquiry to help tackle cancer inequality

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A MAJOR investigation is being launched into inequalities faced by cancer patients in East Yorkshire.

The charity Yorkshire Cancer Research is spending £750,000 on the project looking at differences in the diagnosis and experience of patients with cancer throughout the Hull area.

The project is based on figures from the North East Yorkshire and Humber Clinical Alliance which show cancer mortality rates in East Yorkshire are higher than the national average, and five year survival rates are significantly lower.

Deprived areas in East Yorkshire have higher death rates and lower survival rates compared with nationally.

Poor survival rates for the disease have been linked to delays in diagnosis.

The first part of the study will concentrate on understanding how people interpret symptoms and the factors that make them visit their doctor.

Cancer patients in East Yorkshire will be invited to take part in the investigation through questionnaires and in-depth interviews.

Newly-diagnosed patients will be tracked to determine outcomes, and focus groups involving non-cancer patients will also be set up to assess attitudes towards seeking help and to health staff.

The project will be led by Hull GP Una Macleod, who is professor of primary care medicine at Hull York Medical School.

She said: “Cancer patients in the UK are less likely to survive cancer than those in other parts of Europe, Canada and Australia, and survival is particularly bad in socio-economically poor areas such as East Yorkshire.

“We will carry out a number of related studies – understanding how cancers of the lung and head and neck first come to medical attention in patients who are socio-economically deprived; analysing cancer registry information relating to which part of the health service the patient first comes to with symptoms from their cancer; and investigating the reasons and outcomes for patients who first seek medical help with cancer as an emergency.”

The second part of the project will evaluate palliative care services for those suffering from advanced cancer.

Figures relating to referrals and deaths in hospices will be analysed to look at inequalities depending on the background, age or sex of patients.

Those with advanced cancer who are admitted to Hull Royal Infirmary for unscheduled care will be interviewed.

Medical records will also be reviewed and focus groups involving cancer specialists and GPs will be set up.

A pilot scheme designed to improve the planning of care for advanced cancer patients will also be trialled by staff at Hull Royal Infirmary.

Dr Macleod said: “Survival is not the only important issue – how people experience cancer and the care they receive is also very important for all patients, especially for those with advanced cancer.

“The purpose of this work is to ensure that all people with cancer, whether they are rich or poor, have high quality care.”

She added: “We hope that our research will lead to the earlier recognition of people with cancer, a reduction in the number of people diagnosed as an emergency, and the assessment of all advanced cancer patients to determine their needs so that they receive appropriate care in the most appropriate place.”

A number of other researchers based at Hull York Medical School will also be involved in the five-year study.