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The University of Southampton
Health Sciences

Summary by third year nursing student Dan Aze

Living With and Beyond Cancer Summit and the Cancer Taskforce strategy meeting.

As part of our third year leadership module, in March this year, nursing students held a question and answer session with Professor Dame Jessica Corner.

Having recently read a paper by Jessica, with a particularly memorable conclusion, I asked about the decisions involved in publishing a piece of work if it may be somewhat controversial. Jessica replied that whatever your job role, if you honestly believe what you are doing is in the best interest of patients, sometimes you have to be fearless.

Following on from this, and keeping in mind the need to sometimes be fearless, I emailed Jessica and asked whether I could shadow her to see the work she does. Shortly after this a reply came from Jessica saying it was lovely to hear from one of the students and asked if I would like to attend a two-day national summit regarding the work between Macmillan and NHS England, called Living With and Beyond Cancer, and a strategy meeting for the newly-formed Cancer Taskforce.

I travelled to London on the train with Jessica which provided a good opportunity to hear about what both events involved. Jessica explained that cancer care has improved, and outcomes have improved, but that this is no longer good enough, and these two events were about improving peoples’ experience of living with their condition and the treatment associated with it.

One of the objectives of the summit was to determine the priorities for people living with, and beyond, cancer. Some of the discussion involved how advances in the treatment of cancer, and improved prognoses, allow for new models of care which align with other long-term conditions, and what changes will be necessary to the workforce and leadership to allow better care of people living with and beyond cancer.

During these discussions there were presentations from Trusts, which were successfully implementing these improvements in patient experience, as well as presentations from patient representatives where good experiences had not been had.

Throughout the first day I couldn’t help thinking that I was already familiar with many of the ideas being discussed. This surprised me because, at a national summit with cancer care specialists from across the country, I had expected to feel out of my depth, but in fact, felt familiar with a lot of what was being said. I was particularly surprised that what people were saying needed to happen was not already happening.

Then I realised this was because the course I have been studying at Southampton is designed to equip its graduates to provide better care for all patients, and so the changes that had been identified as needing to happen to the work force to improve the experiences of cancer patients, such as changes in culture, new roles and new ways of working across disease areas, were already in place in my training.

Effectively, myself and everyone who has been training alongside me, were becoming the changes necessary to the work force to deliver the improved care.

The second day, due to realising my training had given me a lot of knowledge that others may not be aware of, I contributed more to the discussions, particularly as one of the focusses on the second day involved putting patients in the driving seat, the importance of which had been reiterated a lot during my training.

After the summit had finished we jumped in a taxi and battled with the traffic across London to the Cancer Taskforce Strategy meeting. I have only been to London a couple of times previously so Jessica kindly pointed out the sights to me on the way.

The mechanisms behind influencing national policy and strategies for improving healthcare is not something I had ever given a second thought to before beginning my training to become a nurse. However I was now sat in a room in the head quarters of Cancer Research UK to watch that happen.

Representatives from various organisations and hospital trusts were there to put forward their views including: Professor Sir Mike Richards the chief inspector of hospitals; Mr Sean Duffy the national clinical director for cancer at NHS England; Professor John Newton the chief knowledge officer for Public Health England; and many others.

The meeting began with Jessica’s presentation of the National Cancer Experience Survey, which investigated the experiences of over 70,000 people with a primary diagnosis of cancer in 153 NHS Trusts.

The rest of the meeting addressed the objectives identified by Dr Harpal Kumar, the chair of the taskforce and chief executive of Cancer Research UK, regarding the barriers and facilitators to improving patients’ experiences.

Various members of the taskforce, patient representatives, and representatives from other organisations would put forward their views, often relating back to the Cancer Patient Experience Survey, which, due to it collecting the views of over 70,000 patients, was to some extent putting those people in the driving seat of this strategy meeting.

To conclude the meeting Harpal summarised what he felt should be included in the new cancer strategy in terms of what should be done and what still needs to be learnt about patient experience.

The train journey home provided an opportunity for another question and answer session about the last couple of days to reinforce what I had learnt. One of the things I had learnt from Jessica is to never make too many points or else what you really want to say may become lost. Keeping this in mind I shall limit what I learnt from the two days to just three points.

Firstly I learnt how well prepared for the future my training has made me to deliver care that values both outcomes and a persons experience.

Secondly, improvements in healthcare do not just happen, a lot of hard work has to go into researching what needs to happen and a lot of hard work has to go into making any improvements happen.

Finally, putting a human face to the people I have read about who shape and regulate healthcare in this country reiterates what I have been learning recently about the shared purpose of everyone in healthcare. Whether a student nurse, chief inspector of hospitals, research professor, or chair of a national task force, everyone involved is essentially using their individual skills to achieve the same goal, giving people the best care we can.

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