New cancer care saving millions for NHS

A NEW form of cancer care which has slashed patients’ hospital stays and is predicted to save the NHS millions is being pioneered at The Whittington.

The rate at which cancer sufferers are treated at the Whittington has almost doubled, thanks to the introduction of a computerised referral system.

Previously patients admitted through A&E could be waiting for more than a week before a cancer specialist from an external centre came in to assess them.

But now, with all referrals being sent electronically to an on-site oncology team, they can be seen within 24 hours.

It has been calculated that this system has cut patients’ time in hospital by nine days – a 45 per cent reduction which is projected to save �500,000 annually.

Oncologist Dr Pauline Leonard, who has headed up the project, said the electronic referrals mean doctors can now make oncologist appointments as easily as they can order a blood test or an X-ray.

“Myself and my team of specialists pick up the referrals every day and from Monday to Friday we can deal with them within 24 hours, rather than putting patients through a whole lot of tests,” she said. “If you ask us to see the patient as soon as you know they’ve got cancer we can see if it’s appropriate for them to have the first tests or if it’s better to get them straight to the hospice.”

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Dr Leonard explained that before patients would have to remain in hospital until their condition was discussed with specialists at a meeting held just once a week.

But last year she said the Whittington took the first “brave” steps in speeding up cancer care by employing her on a permanent basis in April.

“It’s very unusual for a cancer unit to have its own full-time oncologist rather than pay them to visit,” she said. “So if patients come through they can access a cancer specialist every day.”

The new approach created by Dr Leonard has already been adopted by 15 other NHS trusts.

And earlier this month the 47-year-old consultant and her team were recognised for their achievements by being named oncology team of the year at a prestigious national award ceremony.

“What we’ve done at the Whittington is truly innovative,” Dr Leonard added.

“We’re making what happens to patients more appropriate.”