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Use of health and social care by people with cancer

There are estimated to be around two million people living with cancer in the United Kingdom (UK). Improved survival rates, earlier detection and an ageing population have led to cancer incidence increasing by around three per cent annually (Maddams and others, 2009). Given the growing number of people who are living with cancer, there has been a shift from seeing it as a fatal illness to a chronic one, where people may be in one of a number of possible stages, ranging from diagnosis, active treatment, remission and relapse to end of life. This shift has led to a growing focus on survivorship, and on the long-term needs of those living with and after cancer.

There has been a significant amount of research into the use and costs of health care by people with specific cancers, as well as into the wider economic and social costs arising from loss of earnings and premature mortality (Bending and others, 2010; Bosanquet and Sikora, 2004; Broekx and others, 2011; Morris and others, 2009). However, as well as health care needs, people diagnosed with cancer may also have emotional and practical needs associated with the illness or treatment, which require the involvement of social care services. These services might range from home care or equipment/adaptations to assist with activities of daily living, emotional support services, through to short- or long-term residential or nursing home care. However, compared to health care, remarkably little is known about the use of social care by people with cancer.

A recent report argued that ‘cancer should be as much a social care concern as it is a health priority’ (Macmillan Cancer Support, 2010, p. 5). It found that social services in the UK are not meeting the needs of people with cancer. Often people were not referred for assessment by social services and did not know the sorts of services that might have been available to them. The report also found that organisations that commissioned social care services had limited understanding of the specific needs of cancer survivors. In a previous survey, Macmillan Cancer Support (2006) found that 35 per cent of those with cancer did not know how to access social care and support.