Friday 9 March 2012

Paul Burstow MP writes: The hidden potential of early diagnosis

To be told that you or a loved one has cancer is likely to be one of the most gut-wrenching moments of anyone's life. To be further informed that the chances of survival are low is devastating. But if more people knew they could live a fuller life for longer, we could ease the impact of that devastating time.

Last week I commissioned health officials to conduct a scoping exercise into early diagnosis across the health service. The plan is that research will help us to understand what, if any, evidence exists as to the extent of delayed diagnosis and its impact on patients. I expect to receive the results of this work in March next year and hope it will help to paint a better picture in terms of how a more 'preventative' NHS might work.

In Coalition we are already working to improve patients' lives by reducing delayed diagnosis. This month I launched a national dementia awareness campaign to encourage people to spot the early signs of the disease in the run-up to Christmas. In September the Coalition announced £10 million for dementia memory services to improve early diagnosis and treatment of the condition. And in February this year I announced the first-ever Government campaign to raise awareness of the early signs of bowel cancer, after successful pilots in two areas saw a 48% increase in the over 50s going to their GP with symptoms.

To put it starkly, if people are diagnosed in the early stages of bowel cancer the chances of them surviving for at least five years is over 90%, compared to just 6.6% at a later stage. A delay in diagnosis can also lead to increased mortality from diseases such as cancer and can raise the risk of accidents, falls and fractures - or the need for more complex and intensive treatment further down the line.

So, by investigating the possibilities of early diagnosis we can demonstrate how innovative solutions have the potential to improve the quality of care given to patients and ensure they live longer, healthier lives.

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