Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer

We’ve been listening to the Reith Lectures this year, have you?

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Here at Dorset Macmillan Advocacy we’ve been listening to the 2014 series of Reith Lectures on BBC Radio, this year delivered by surgeon and Harvard Professor Dr. Atul Gawande. Gawande is a well known author and was named as one of the world’s most influential thinkers by Time magazine in 2010.

As a cancer advocacy service we experience all aspects of our local cancer services and with the massive Dorset CCG Clinical Services Review underway we are all interested in thinking about how systemic changes could benefit patients and clinicians alike.

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In the first lecture Dr Gawande describes the central act of medicine as, “the moment when one human being turns to another human being for help”. He reflects on what he sees as the underlying flaw in modern medicine: a failure to effectively and consistently apply the knowledge science has afforded us over the last century to achieve the best outcomes. The scope and depth of the knowledge we now possess, he argues, goes beyond anything implementable by any one individual hence the need for updated systems to enhance communication and delivery of services.

In his second lecture Gawande highlights the need for effective systems to underpin delivery of the best possible treatments. The premise is relatively simple: does everyone involved in the treatment process know their role – have all the bases been covered and has this been verified?

Gawande and his team have pioneered a checklist approach looking to fields outside of medicine for inspiration. So far this has yielded impressive results saving lives and reducing complications during surgery where trialled.

Dr Atul Gawande

Dr Atul Gawande

This is an approach that he believes could apply to complex, long term conditions where patients often have more than one problem requiring treatment and could potentially not only improve patient experience and outcomes but also (and importantly) save money.

The experience for many older people affected by cancer is busy and complex with multiple individuals and agencies involved. Gawande argues that with this level of complexity the opportunity for oversight and errors is greatly increased unless there is a solid system in place to co-ordinate the treatment process. He draws on powerful personal stories to illustrate his point: he counted a grand total of 66 people attending to his own mother in her hospital bed during admission for a knee replacement, some of whom gave conflicting advice as a result of operating within their own, isolated remits.

The situations and dilemmas outlined in Gawande’s lectures highlight the role that advocacy can play to great effect in the cancer journey – when a person is at their most vulnerable and difficult choices have to be made and complex treatments and procedures understood and implemented, having an advocate can be key.

Jenny Rimmer, Senior Macmillan Advocate, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

 

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