Despite accessible information on common cancer symptoms and innovation in treatment, those diagnosed with the condition face numerous obstacles in their care.
Typical concerns include short GP appointments, long waiting lists, restricted access to new treatments and drugs, and limited support around emotional health and financial security.
Public healthcare is changing dramatically in response to these concerns, but the weight of demand on the NHS continues to put pressure on service delivery. Independent healthcare organisations can offer patients faster and more in-depth treatment, however many patients are unsure of the level and duration of support they will receive.
Independent healthcare organisations are seeking to address this concern, and Bupa is at the forefront of designing new, innovative pathways and models of care for its customers, whether they are being investigated or treated for cancer, or simply want to reduce their likelihood of getting the disease.
Among the central pillars of Bupa’s offering is its Cancer Promise. This guarantees insured customers with cancer cover, access to eligible and evidence-based breakthrough drugs and treatments, often before they are available on the NHS, regardless of the costs or timeframes involved.
Between July 2017 and July 2018, more than 48,000 Bupa customers were impacted by cancer. For many, the initial journey begins by calling the company’s Direct Access service, which offers a fast route to a specialist consultant for customers concerned they may have cancer symptoms.
The service was initially offered to those suspecting breast or bowel cancer, but was recently extended to cover all cancers. There is usually no need to visit a GP; just one call to the dedicated oncology support team, made up of specialist advisers and nurses, who will assess your symptoms over the phone and, if necessary, book an appointment with a specialist.^
“Patients worried about cancer are looking for quick assessments and treatment,” explains Julia Ross, Bupa UK Insurance’s head of cardiac, cancer and radiology. “If they are sat at home or work worrying they might have bowel cancer, for example, elsewhere they could be waiting up to five weeks before they are told actually it’s all fine, which is a lot of stress and difficulty that can be avoided.”
Patients worried about cancer are looking for quick assessments and treatment
For those with cancer, a Bupa recognised consultant can begin treatment rapidly; in breast and bowel cancer patients, for example, the average number of days between calling Direct Access and starting treatment was 33 and 27 days, respectively. This compares favourably with the published national target of 62 days.
Bupa is now working with HCA Healthcare UK to develop criteria for specialist centres for breast cancer, initially focused on quick access to diagnosis, expert treatment and holistic support for breast cancer patients. “We’re starting with breast cancer because it is our largest area of cancer. It’s early days, but once we’ve established this model for customers across the country, we’ll take these learnings to establish care for the other cancer types,” says Ms Ross. “The aim is to optimise cancer services and to ensure they can be exceptionally well governed.”
The total scope of cancer care provided by Bupa extends from diagnosis through to end-of-life care and also incorporates support to help people cope with living with cancer. In addition to counselling and emotional support services, Bupa has a Survivorship Programme that helps people to focus on the aspects of their wellbeing that they can still control, even while suffering with such a serious illness.
“Research tells us that if you maintain a healthy diet and exercise, you stand a much better chance of being able to manage a difficult treatment regime and also the disease itself,” explains Ms Ross. “Our focus is always on keeping the patient at the centre of everything, but also removing them as much as possible from the worry and the stress of the administration.”
Some of the services are offered on a pay-as-you-go basis, including a range of comprehensive health assessments which can help to identify potential future risks. Advisers are on hand to offer guidance and advice on lifestyle factors that could be making people more susceptible to getting cancer or other illnesses later in life. This can be ideal for people who may not be experiencing symptoms or have a family history to worry about, but who simply want support to improve their health.
“The usual triggers for people wanting to assess their health tend to be milestone events, such as significant birthdays, or when a friend or family member has been seriously ill,” says Dr Petra Simic, medical director at Bupa. “Additionally, parents want to remain healthy for their children and for the sake of the family unit.”
Bupa’s health assessments can be chosen to suit an individual’s priorities and to offer peace of mind. Featuring a key set of tests and measures, some of the assessments can also include testing, where clinically appropriate, for the most common cancers, such as breast,
bowel and prostate.
Individuals receive access to a personalised report, lifestyle coaching and a wellbeing app called Boost, enabling them to track progress towards goals set with their adviser. Last year, eight in ten customers changed their lifestyle habits for the better following their assessment and 73 per cent witnessed improved health.
“People have the opportunity to take stock of their current health status as well as highlighting lifestyle factors which may be putting them at heightened risk of cancer and other illness,” says Dr Simic.
In today’s busy world, taking the time to assess lifestyle and wellbeing can be the first, positive step towards a healthier future. A health assessment can provide education around early detection to improve outcomes, and better lifestyle can also result in significant reductions in overall treatment duration and severity.
To find out about all-round support for cancer and to access health assessments please visit bupa.co.uk
^ Direct Access telephone services are available as long as the symptoms are covered under the policy. If your cover excludes conditions you had before your policy started, we’ll ask you to provide evidence from your GP that your symptoms are not pre-existing for a period of up to two years from the policy start date before we can refer you to a consultant through the Direct Access service. Always call us first to check your eligibility.