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Macmillan report shows ‘true cost’ of cancer to the NHS in England

Author: Tom Moran
08 December 2015

A report from Macmillan Cancer Support examining the "hidden costs" of cancer estimates the total cost to the NHS in England of providing support for people with cancer beyond initial treatment.

The report, entitled 'Cancer cash crisis – counting the cost of care beyond treatment', warns that the NHS is currently spending more than £500 million a year on emergency inpatient care for people diagnosed with the four most common cancers (breast, lung, prostate and bowel) alone.

It also estimates that care and support for people with cancer beyond their initial treatment will cost the NHS in England a minimum of £1.4 billion every year by 2020. However, this figure excludes the cost of end of life care, stating that it "refers to the cost of monitoring, follow-up and consequences of treatment" only.

This figure is considerably higher than the cost of diagnosing cancer (estimated at £400 million a year) and comparable to the cost of surgery, radiotherapy and other non-drug treatments, which is around £1.5 billion annually.

However, the report emphasises that the figures released today refer to NHS costs only, noting: "The cost of cancer to society as a whole also includes social care and welfare support as well as lost productivity and support from carers, among other costs."

The report claims that large amounts of money are being spent on the wrong things. Of the money spent on emergency inpatient care, around £130 million is spent on people whose initial treatment has finished but who are not at the end of life. The report states that these people should be receiving "appropriate long-term support to help prevent the need for emergency care".

It also highlights future challenges for the NHS: the number of people living with cancer in England is expected to rise to 3.4 million by 2030, and many of those will also face other serious long-term health conditions as well as cancer.

Juliet Bouverie, executive director of services and influencing at Macmillan, said: "The story does not end when someone’s treatment finishes, and many people live with the effects of cancer for the rest of their life.

"This means the NHS needs the money to care for people far beyond initial treatment. There will be significant cost implications in the future if the government and NHS do not invest now. Quite simply, money has to be spent now, and spent wisely, to save later."

She also called on the government and NHS to "fully fund and implement" the cancer strategy for England.

"The strategy provides a range of important solutions that will put cancer care on course for improvement, and help stem the rising tide of costs," she explained. "One such recommendation is the rolling out of a recovery package including a holistic needs assessment and other key interventions which have been proven to help people get their lives back after treatment."

The full report is available to download on the Macmillan website.

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