NHS England has just published its 2014 report on cancer patients’ experience in primary and secondary care, a vital piece of research that complements the purely medical efforts to combat the scariest of all the diseases in the spectrum of public health fears. Despite some early media efforts to cherry pick the critical aspects of the report and use them as a new bunch of sticks to beat the poor old NHS with, the report quite clearly shows that the vast majority of cancer patients feel that they are being treated appropriately, on time, and with the dignity and respect they quite obviously deserve.

The report builds on the previous iterations of the Cancer patients surveys stretching back to 2010; a huge database of patient responses is now available to researchers, allowing health professionals to concentrate on what matters to the patient, and to focus efforts on making the experience of care even better. There is room for improvement, as the report highlights, and it is interesting to see how much of that room for improvement lies in the area of patient (and family) involvement and provision of information.

Patients want to know more about the financial effects of cancer and cancer care; they want to know more about clinical research and how they can get involved; they want their families to get information, and to get involved in decision making; basically, they want to feel active in the process of their care, not just a passive recipient of expert focus.

One central finding that stands out is that ‘the single most important factor associated with high patient scores … is the patient being given the name of a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) in charge of their care’. Having a single, known person to turn to for help and guidance, and to complain to if things are not going well, makes a huge difference in the care experience.

Overall the patient experience scores have shown a steady trend of improvement since the survey’s inception in 2010, which tells us that the NHS is listening and learning, and making progress, in relation to cancer care and treatment. Maybe we’ll see a news story to that effect in the national media? Don’t hold your breath …