Why we need to bridge the gap in health inequalities in lung cancer

The Covid-19 pandemic, together with the current cost of living crisis, have shone a light on the huge health disparities and deep inequalities running through our society - not least in UK lung cancer.

While we welcome initiatives such as the establishment of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, Core20PLUS5 and the NHS Race Health Observatory - the Government’s priority must be to act now to tackle inequalities in lung cancer.

The reason is simple. Lung cancer is the biggest cause of UK cancer deaths – and has by far the biggest deprivation gap compared to any other cancer. Yet almost 80% of lung cancer cases are preventable. Addressing health inequalities successfully in lung cancer will have a huge impact on overall UK cancer outcomes.

While there is much data regarding lung cancer and socioeconomic factors, there is a limited or no data on a wide range of other health inequalities. Addressing health inequalities successfully in lung cancer will have a huge impact on overall UK cancer outcomes.

Health inequalities are complex and far reaching. Removing them is hard and takes time. However, they will be mitigated more rapidly if we work together as a lung cancer community and ensure more systematic and robust data collection across all communities and a single, coordinated data strategy to provide a framework for tackling health inequalities on multiple levels – local, regional, and national.

Our recommendation for the National Lung Cancer Audit (NLCA) to play a pivotal role is key. Our report is suggesting that the outcomes data from the NLCA should be combined with data on health inequalities and access to diagnosis, treatment, and care. This would be a powerful way of measuring success of mitigating actions in lung cancer. Trusts should also be mandated to complete information on inequalities and the cancer registry should be encouraged to collect information on ethnicity, LGBTQ+ and other inequality factors

Other recommendations in the report include:

  • Introducing a Personal Care and Access Card scheme, carried by the patient, which combines their existing NHS Holistic Needs Assessment information, if available, together with their personal treatment and care plan.
  • Targeting disease awareness campaigns across the four UK nations to address local needs and communities.
  • Ensuring NHS services have regular local reviews to ensure adequate capacity and workforce to meet local needs particularly in areas with high levels of inequality.
  • Urging the four UK Governments to implement the recent recommendations of the UK National Screening Programme, and urgently establish lung cancer screening programmes. We believe that this will have an immediate impact on health inequalities.

This report, based on the outputs of the meeting with UKLCC’s Clinical Advisory Group earlier year, desk top research and interviews with other lung cancer and health inequalities experts. Our overriding aim is to ensure that all people with lung cancer, regardless of their social or economic status, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, beliefs, language, or disability etc. have equitable access to diagnosis, treatment, and care.

We hope that this report will serve as a blueprint for tackling health inequalities - not only in lung cancer but also in other cancers and other diseases.  The full report can be downloaded here: www.uklcc.org.uk/our-reports