CancerMarie Curie is calling for NHS England to ensure that the palliative care needs of all cancer patients are assessed when they are first diagnosed. This coincides with the publication of a new Marie Curie report, The Hidden Challenges of Palliative Cancer Care, which shows that people with certain types of cancer are more likely to miss out on care and support focussed on providing relief from symptoms, pain and emotional stress.

The report, backed by Bloodwise and The Brain Tumour Charity, says that people living with terminal blood or brain cancer – which together account for around one in 10 of all cancer deaths each year – are more likely to be associated with unmet care needs than other types of cancer.

The report identifies a lack of understanding around palliative care which means it is often only considered when all other options have failed or when a person is considered to be at the end of their life. This is despite evidence that earlier introduction of palliative care – which may be used alongside curative treatments – can improve quality of life and reduce the burden of symptoms. There is also evidence that earlier assessment can result in patients with incurable cancer choosing not to undergo more aggressive treatment in favour of beginning palliative care earlier.

Improving awareness and understanding of palliative care is identified as a key challenge for the health service. The report finds that many doctors lack confidence in having difficult conversations around end of life care with patients and their families. These missed conversations can mean that people miss out on referral for specialist palliative care as well as a chance to fully discuss their end of life wishes.

Professor Bill Noble, Medical Director for Marie Curie, said: “Modern palliative care is about supporting people throughout their terminal illness. We need to get past the idea that providing palliative care is giving up on a patient. People living with any terminal illness should expect to receive the level of care they need.”

Sarah Lindsell, chief executive of The Brain Tumour Charity, added: “This report offers a powerful insight into palliative care in the UK and sets out clearly how it can and should be improved to meet the needs of patients and their families. It shows that people with brain tumours are among those likely to experience particular problems in relation to palliative care and The Brain Tumour Charity is delighted to join forces with Marie Curie and Bloodwise to address this important issue.”

The need for earlier assessment and evaluation of the benefit of earlier palliative care has been recommended by the Independent Cancer Taskforce in their 2015-2020 strategy. Marie Curie, Bloodwise and The Brain Tumour Charity are calling for these recommendations to be implemented as soon as possible to ensure that patients are not missing out.