Each year more than 3,700 people are diagnosed with bowel cancer, making the disease the third most common cancer in Scotland. It’s also the second biggest cancer killer in the country, with 1,600 dying every year. But it shouldn’t be: bowel cancer is treatable and curable, especially if diagnosed early.
As the Head of Scotland for Bowel Cancer UK, I work to ensure people affected by bowel cancer receive the best treatment and care available. It’s vitally important that any new technology is thoroughly researched and the evidence base reviewed before being introduced to the NHS. The work of the Scottish Health Technologies Group (SHTG) – part of Healthcare Improvement Scotland – ensures this happens, and that’s why I am proud to be involved with them as a Patient Organisation Representative.
To date, I’ve been involved in three different health technology assessments. Each one has been very different but all have the potential to improve the treatment and care people with bowel cancer receive.
To date, I’ve been involved in three different health technology assessments. Each one has been very different but all have the potential to improve the treatment and care people with bowel cancer receive. The first SHTG assessment I was asked to be involved in explored the use of robot-assisted surgery for some patients who have rectal cancer. While SHTG conducted the important task of reviewing the evidence of the technology’s effectiveness by looking at previous studies, they were keen to find out what’s most important to those diagnosed with rectal cancer to ensure their voice also played an important role in shaping the final advice. As a patient group that works closely with patients and their carers, Bowel Cancer UK were ideally placed to help.
In putting together our submission for the review, we wanted to demonstrate what outcomes patients would regard as benefitting them, and what information they would need to make an informed choice about robot-assisted surgery. To do this, we were able to use a combination of our existing knowledge and expertise, as well as gather additional patient views from a short survey we promoted online through our patient forum and social media channels. We found patients wanted fewer treatment-related side effects, faster recovery time and the ability to return to work more quickly. They also valued smaller scars as a result of the surgery, as well as knowing that an experienced team would be undertaking the surgery, plus more information generally about robotic surgery.
These responses helped us provide an informative patient organisation submission, which I presented to the SHTG committee. At the committee meeting itself, I felt the key points I presented were listened to, and that the contribution of Bowel Cancer UK was valued by committee members. The subsequent advice published by SHTG stated that robot-assisted surgery should be considered for some patients with rectal cancer who fit the agreed criteria. In those patients, there is evidence of a clinical benefit as it reduces the risks that come with open surgery.
We’re proud to know that we play a crucial role in shaping the final advice that will influence health policy and decision-making at local and national level that will promote an efficient, safe, sustainable, equitable and high-quality health system for all patients, not just those with bowel cancer.
In addition to the robotic surgery assessment, I’ve also provided peer review comments for two other assessments on behalf of Bowel Cancer UK. The first was to explore the introduction of the use of Colon Capsule Endoscopy for detecting bowel cancer or polyps, and found that this kind of technology may be considered as an option for some patients. The second was the use of PET-CT imaging in patients with anal cancer, which found that such imaging should be considered when assessing the stage of tumours.
We’re proud to know that we play a crucial role in shaping the final advice that will influence health policy and decision-making at local and national level that will promote an efficient, safe, sustainable, equitable and high-quality health system for all patients, not just those with bowel cancer. Working with SHTG to develop evidence and advice like this will help Bowel Cancer UK achieve our vision of a future where nobody dies from the disease.
Claire Donaghy is Head of Scotland for Bowel Cancer UK.