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Learnings from our second summer roundtable

Cancer Alliances: how can integrated ways of working advance services and address inequalities?

By Helena Grant, Account Executive

Last week we held the second event in our summer roundtable series, bringing together subject matter experts to share their insight and experience on topics relevant to the NHS, service providers and pharma.

Our discussion centred around whether ICSs will enable an improved shared care pathway between primary and secondary care – using Cancer Alliances as an example of how improved care pathways benefit patients. We were joined by Susan Sinclair, the Managing Director at RM Partners Cancer Alliance, where she has been transforming cancer services for four million Londoners.

The structural change to ICSs aims to ensure local services within each place best meet the needs of its population. An approach used to address health inequalities within places involves activating community networks, particularly building upon the work done with the Covid-19 vaccination programme where networks sought to better understand the needs of BAME groups and address vaccine hesitancy.

Cancer Alliances are champions of integrated ways of working – bringing together leaders from different hospital trusts and other health and social care organisations to transform diagnosis, treatment, and care for cancer patients. Their strategy feeds into reducing cancer inequality and variation in care, as well as fuelling innovation, and the adoption of new ways of working. However, there can be difficulty getting new tech and innovation integrated within services.

Susan used the example of the Grail study as a positive example of innovation. The study enrolled over 140,000 volunteers in the largest ever study of a cancer early detection test. It set a new standard in the speed and set up of cancer trial recruitment and may pave the way for future large-scale innovative trials. The existence of innovation grants, Biomedical Research Centres, Academic Health Science Networks and clinical networks can also help bridge the gap between innovation and adoption into the NHS.

 When considering health inequalities in the context of cancer diagnosis and treatment, socioeconomic deprivation is strongly linked to delayed diagnosis and worse outcomes. When we talk about health inequalities we often think about just one component, but we need to think about intersectionality, layering deprivation, ethnicity and other related factors. Understanding the circumstances and behaviours which lead to cancers being detected will be instrumental in getting people on a treatment pathway faster.

Now we must consider: what’s next?

There is a lot of rich data on inequalities, but what needs to be done with it? While we don’t have all the answers, potential solutions could include reaching out to third-sector organisations, using initiatives such as community pharmacies, utilising industry partnerships and making an effort to reach people whose views aren’t reflected in surveys and statistics. As we move forward, new ways of working will likely involve assessing the inequalities of populations and designing programmes to address this – for example by targeting a specific borough.

How we can best address health inequalities will remain a vital conversation as we continue the progression towards integrated care.