Jagtar Dhanda is Head of Inclusion at Macmillan Cancer Support

All blogs are the views of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of Independent Age.

The UK has some of the lowest five-year cancer survival rates for over-65s compared with similar developed countries[1]. If something isn’t done to change this now, over the next 15 years we will let down a generation of older people living with cancer who should be able to access a world class NHS service - which 66 years ago was the envy of the world.

If the NHS were a 66-year-old pensioner, how would we characterise it? It’s vulnerable; it’s taken for granted; it can barely pay its bills... We need to transform this 66-year-old NHS into a more confident, well connected, relevant and vibrant institution.   

If we can do this; if we can synch the aspirations of the NHS with the aspirations of older people living with cancer, then we will make the UK the best country in the world to grow older in.

So what needs to happen? The NHS needs to be the envy of the world again by thinking much more laterally about how older peoples’ care can be delivered. This will require it to show leadership by taking calculated risks and not let itself be subject to the whim of politicians.

It will need to take brave decisions, and work outside of its institutional masonry. Hospitals need to see that care is not just delivered within their walls – they will need to let some of their power base erode and become an enabler of community care rather than a behemoth where care starts, continues and ends. This will ensure the financial, emotional and practical side of older peoples’ care is considered at every stage of their cancer journey.

Finally, the NHS will need to ask itself hard questions about the way treatment decisions are made. Macmillan believes that too many people are being assessed for treatment on their age alone, not their fitness and ability to cope with gruelling treatment. As Sean Duffy, National Clinical Director for Cancer, recently said, we need a “fundamental change” in the way treatment decisions are made. 

If we are serious as a society about wanting to make the UK the best country in the world for people living with cancer to grow old in, these are the steps we need to aspire to.

What do you think needs to happen to make the UK the best country to grow older in?

What concerns you most about growing older and why?

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[1] Coleman MP, Forman D, Bryant H, et al. Cancer survival in Australia, Canada, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the UK, 1995-2007 (the International Cancer Benchmarking Partnership): An Analysis of Population-Based Cancer Registry Data, Lancet 2011; 377: 127-138http://www.thelancet.com/journals/lancet/article/PIIS0140-6736(10)62231-3/fulltext#article_upsell

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