Currently 1.8 million people in England are living with and beyond a cancer diagnosis, and good quality health and social care support is more important than ever. This project explores the current patterns of health and social care use by cancer patients in order to inform future service development and provision.

This research project, which has been commissioned by the Department of Health, aimed to find out how often and how intensively cancer patients use local authority funded social care and the NHS. This information is currently not available elsewhere and will be used to inform the development of services in this area.

We aimed to find out how cancer patients’ use of health and social care changes following diagnosis with cancer, and compare their patterns of use to what would be expected for other patients of the same age and sex.

We believe this is the first study that has attempted to link data on primary care and social care use with data held by cancer registries

In order to do this, we worked with local authorities and their health partners to extract a series of administrative datasets about the use of services in their areas. By linking these data sets together at the person level, we built up a picture of health and social care use over a period of several years for individual patients. To protect patient confidentiality, we only received 'pseudonymous' data, which means that we will not be able to identify any of the patients concerned.

The key for this project was to link these records to cancer registry information so that we can identify people in these areas who have been diagnosed with cancer. This means we can compare cancer patients’ use of health and social care from the point of initial diagnosis and compare this to other groups of the same age and sex. This is the first time that we have linked administrative data sets to the clinical audit databases; the research is designed to produce a model that can be used for future research.

We studied the primary, secondary and social care use of 8,072 people with a first diagnosis of cancer from two areas of England, for a year before diagnosis and up to 18 months after. The results (published in June 2014) show clear evidence of a social service response to a diagnosis of cancer.

We believe this is the first study that has attempted to link data on primary care and social care use with data held by cancer registries. This linkage allows exploration of a range of questions that previously it would not have been possible to address.

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