The Role of the Breast Cancer Foundation and Charity Network in Supporting Healthcare
Whilst the state is at the heart of providing healthcare in the UK, the NHS has been struggling to cope financially for some time. Efficiency savings are not materialising fast enough to cope with increasing demand and funding increases are limited. The NHS budget deficit is increasing year on year and by 2020 the funding gap is estimated to be £30bn per year.
If funding cuts continue without any significant change to the way in which healthcare is delivered, the ability of the NHS to meet demand and provide quality services will be severely compromised. The role of the breast cancer foundation and charity network is therefore pivotal in conducting vital research, providing healthcare, supporting patients and raising awareness.
Pressure on the Healthcare System
Breast cancer continues to be the most commonly diagnosed cancer among women in the UK, with about one in eight women being diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. Over 50,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer in women, and around 350 men, are diagnosed each year in the UK alone. Although the survival rate is increasing, the incidence of breast cancer is also increasing. Possible explanations for this include:
- Ageing population – the majority of breast cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50
- Lifestyle factors – being overweight after the menopause, increased alcohol consumption, a lack of physical activity, and a high fat diet are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer
- Delayed childbirth – women who have their first child later in life (after the age of 35) are more likely to develop breast cancer
- Prolonged hormone exposure – there is a possible link between hormone replacement therapy following the menopause and an increased risk of breast cancer.
This rising trend and subsequent increased demand for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up, will only further stretch a healthcare system that is already struggling financially.
The Advocacy Role of the National Breast Cancer Foundation and Charity Network
The national breast cancer foundation and charity network in a country also plays a hugely important advocacy role. With the government and state agencies continually making decisions about the policies and resources directed towards breast cancer care, foundations and charities are able to ensure that breast cancer remains high on the political agenda.
Their detailed understanding and patient insight allows them to think holistically and influence decisions from a ‘whole patient’ perspective. By taking into account both physical and emotional breast cancer support, they are able to influence the design and delivery of services to best meet the needs of patients, and to tackle the root causes of health issues. Their unique position in the middle ground between patients and the decision makers, enables them to act as an efficient intermediaries. Commanding high levels of public trust and confidence, they and are close enough to patients to understand their needs and opinions, while also having an understanding of local authority systems and established relationships with the state and policymakers.
Recently, breast cancer charities and foundations in the UK campaigned against the removal of a drug from the Cancer Drugs Fund. Kadcyla is proven as a life-extending drug for women with secondary breast cancer. Due to changes in the Cancer Drugs Fund, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) provisionally rejected continuing to make Kadcyla available to patients on the NHS. Charities and foundations immediately started campaigning and were able to present a petition to NICE and the drug company responsible for manufacturing Kadcyla, asking them to work together to keep the drug available. Six months later, it was announced that the drug would continue to be available on the NHS to patients who may need it in the future.
Charities have also co-ordinated and used the collective power of their supporters to influence decision makers. In the run up to elections, they have called on their supporters to contact their Members of Parliament asking them to pledge support to fighting breast cancer. This has been highly successful with many MPs committing to championing breast cancer issues.
The Financial Role of Breast Cancer Research Foundations and Charities
Foundations and charities in the UK play a critical role in funding breast cancer research programs, with drug companies and the government contributing the remainder. For decades, breast cancer research foundations and charities have conducted research into the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of the disease. Without their work, we would not have realised the clinical advancements that we have seen in recent times.
Breast cancer foundation funded researchers were pivotal in the discovery of the breast cancer gene. This made it possible to identify the genetic faults that are responsible for ovarian, breast and prostate cancers. As a result of this research, women are now able to take steps to reduce their risk of breast cancer. Similary, foundation and charity funded researchers discovered that radiotherapy after surgery, helps prevent the return of early breast cancers, saving lives from the disease. Drugs trials have led to the discoveries that certain drugs could be used to prevent breast cancer in women at high risk from the disease.
The Future for the Breast Cancer Foundation and Charity Network
The breast cancer foundation and charity network in the UK are responsible for many great achievements and have made significant progress towards improved breast cancer care. Due to their unique role and the way in which they are funded, they have been able to concentrate on areas that would not have been addressed by the healthcare system. Despite this, there are still areas where more needs to be done. Charities and foundations are now focussing their attention on the prevention of breast cancer, earlier diagnosis, and improved access to breast cancer treatments. Success in these areas will ultimately save lives and reduce the financial burden on the NHS.