As you know from previous entries, we've been working for Macmillan Cancer Support to explore different ways human rights can be used to improve cancer outcomes. The government offered its support to the project last week as part of its new cancer strategy so we thought we'd explain a bit more about the project and how human rights can be used to reduce cancer inequalities.

Currently, people from marginalised groups suffer from poor incidence and survival rates for many different types of cancer. The new cancer strategy contains a commitment from the government to support a human rights approach to the delivery of cancer treatment and care with the aim of reducing these unequal outcomes.

This is because tackling inequalities requires every patient to be offered personalised care that addresses their particular needs rather than the perceived needs of their demographic group, the government argues.

To achieve this, it is supporting the development of a human rights standard, which will allow clinicians to move away from using process measures to gauge progress on equality issues, and start measuring the outcomes that really matter to patients. So far, the things patients have said are important include: ensuring privacy when sensitive information is being relayed; better interpersonal skills from staff; and better support after discharge as significant factors affecting patients’ experience of care.

As Joy Warmington, brap CEO, explains:

“Essentially, the key to this Standard is measurement – how do we measure relatively intangible, but important, things like dignity and respect? And in doing so, how do we avoid wasting time and resources looking at outcomes that don’t actually improve patient experience?

“We’ve suggested focusing on behaviours that uphold eight aspects of care that patients have told us are really important to them. They may appear an assorted mix since they include things like whether a patient is called by their preferred name or whether staff ask about the comfort of patients and ensure their environment is clean. But by measuring the existence of these behaviours we can begin to determine whether people are receiving care that is responsive to their true needs.

“The advantage of this is that it improves patient experience.

“In the past, some Trusts have perhaps not recognised the importance of patient experience and the effect it can have on outcomes. It’s up to the government now to really promote patient experience as a means of ensuring quality. “In fact, evidence shows that there is a link between better patient experience and reduced inequalities in cancer outcomes. Patients with better experiences of healthcare are more likely to present their symptoms earlier and stay in the system longer. Patients who feel discriminated against or treated unfairly by staff are more likely to disengage.

“Currently, people from lower socioeconomic backgrounds are much less likely to survive cancer, while mortality rates for those with a combined disadvantage – being old and from an ethnic minority group, say – are also significantly reduced.

“So this isn’t just a question of equality – or even accountability – but of saving people’s lives."

The Human Rights Standard has been developed on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support. You can read more about the project here.

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