The way breast cancer patient care is being delivered has changed dramatically. Many patients begin a treatment pathway that can last for a year or more. But people living with breast cancer want to be able to get on with their lives with as much normality as possible. This means that collaborative working between primary care and the multidisciplinary hospital team is now more important than ever to ensure that patients receive the very best of care from referral to a breast unit, throughout their treatment and upon returning home.
Women rely on nurses in primary care to help them manage the day-to-day medical realities of living with breast cancer. Many patients undergoing surgery are usually discharged within a day, sometimes with drains, which can be of benefit to many women who report that they cope better psychologically at home. Hormonal therapies, such as Herceptin, are necessary for many women for at least five years - possibly up to 10 - and can have debilitating side effects for which on-going support and information must be available. Increasingly, these treatments are also given at home so that women can carry on with their busy lives.
It is important these women have a voice. Breakthrough Breast Cancer set up their Service Pledge forBreast Cancer in 2003 to help women and men across the country shape local services around their specific needs and lives. Through the pledge, patients are given a platform to voice what matters most to them, and use their experiences to help make improvements for the future. They are able to discuss all aspects of their care anonymously and can make suggestions for changes they believe can make a real difference.
The service pledge has helped improve experiences for over 30,000 patients across the UK and has made me proud of the care that my trust and community delivers. But we mustn't rest on our laurels. We can all listen more to our patients and can continually strive to deliver excellent practice.