By Gordon McLean, programme manager for Macmillan Cancer Support

IF a young mum were diagnosed with breast cancer, would you expect her to given support to deal with the anxiety she feels about not being there to see her daughter grow up? What about a 96-year-old man? After treatment for cancer, would you expect support services to be put in place to help him with cope with the aftermath of diagnosis and treatment? Most likely, you would. Unfortunately, there’s a good chance you’d be wrong. Research shows that despite the best efforts of hard-working health and social care professionals, too many people aren’t getting the support they need during or after cancer. And the problem is only going to get worse if action is not taken.

Figures from Macmillan show there are 220,000 people in Scotland living with or after cancer, with this number expected to hit 360,000 by 2030. While it’s good news more people are living longer after a cancer diagnosis, many of them will experience physical, emotional, financial and practical problems that will last long after treatment ends.

The impact of cancer isn’t just physical, and it doesn’t end with treatment. Cancer can bring anxiety, depression, debt, unpaid bills and side effects that can last for years.

There is very often support available, but often people don’t get it, simply because they didn’t know it was there. The Scottish Cancer Patient Experience Survey found that, among those who needed it, only 54 per cent got enough care and support from health and social care professionals during treatment.

The same survey found that just over half of people (52 per cent) wanted information on financial help and benefits from hospital staff, but only 51 per cent received it. It also found that just 22 per cent per cent of people with cancer had a care plan, even though those who had one gave more positive responses to almost every question in the survey.

The truth is, that while we have made considerable progress in treating cancer, we’ve progressed much less when it comes to supporting the person, especially after their treatment finishes and they are regarded as “fixed”.

That’s why Macmillan invested £5m in the Transforming Care After Treatment (TCAT) programme, a partnership with the Scottish Government, the three cancer networks, the NHS and local authorities. This programme, launched in 2013, is funding more than 25 pilot projects within the NHS and local authorities the length and breadth of Scotland. Each project is unique, with each developed to fit local needs and challenges, but all are testing and spreading better ways to support people with cancer.

TCAT is about changing the cancer care system so that the person with cancer is in control and their wants and needs are at the centre of all decisions. Around half of the TCAT pilot projects have reported so far, and the results have been extremely encouraging. People with cancer have reported increases in their satisfaction with their care and more confidence taking control over their own health. Staff have reported finding the new processes and tools easier to use and as well as being better for patients, they are also more efficient.

There is widespread support within Scotland’s health and social care system for these new person-centred approaches, but there is much yet to be done. While there are pockets of excellent practice, there are still too many areas where someone with cancer won’t get the care and support they need. That’s why it’s vital that health and social care leaders look at the best results from TCAT and pledge to deliver the same high quality care and support in their areas.