The cancer story is changing. While it is a cause for celebration that more people than ever are surviving after diagnosis, we know that the impact of cancer does not suddenly stop when treatment is over. At least one in four of those living with cancer – around 500,000 people in the UK – face poor health or disability as a consequence of their illness. Social care has an important role to play in supporting these people so that they are not left to face the long-term consequences of cancer alone.
Cancer survivors have become an integral part of the health and social care landscape. We know an individual’s cancer journey can continue long after the point of hospital discharge and often social care needs are left sidelined, with immediate health needs taking priority. Integrated assessments must be given to people with cancer to identify and support the non-medical needs they may have during and beyond their cancer illness.
Some people will have undergone life-changing surgery or have long-term after-effects from treatment for which they may need an element of ongoing practical or personal care support. This can range from simple assistance with household chores to complex rehabilitative programmes.
For some cancer survivors just getting back into a normal routine and day-to-day life will take some adjustment. Social care providers should look at how they can work in partnership with each person to jointly identify and resolve any adjustment needs. By offering practical solutions and talking through the options available to them, many of these issues can be resolved.
Social workers are integral
Furthermore, social workers are integral in helping to signpost people to specialist support services. This could include voluntary networks, links with other cancer survivors or simply helping them to identify who in their current social network may be able to offer support. Rehabilitative and reablement services can also help someone to self manage their own recovery. To do this, assessment and care planning processes must be in place for all cancer survivors.
Receiving a cancer diagnosis in itself will be life-changing and challenging for most people. However we do know that many cancer survivors have a good quality of life following successful treatment and periods of recovery. We therefore have a responsibility to ensure people are properly supported and encouraged to re-establish a sense of well-being and ‘normal living’.
Macmillan wants all people affected by cancer to be involved in the decisions relating to their care, which should be co-ordinated and planned from the individual’s perspective. We would like to see better integrated services, with the NHS, social care and voluntary sector working in cross-disciplinary teams to create person-centred services.
Investment in offering the right support at the right time could prevent a person becoming socially isolated or unable to manage, helping to avoid a return to emergency services at crisis point.
Tes Smith is social care programme manager at Macmillan Cancer Support
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