I am sitting opposite oncologist Professor Justin Stebbing, one of the world’s leading researchers into novel cancer treatments, particularly immunotherapy (see below), and talking about the future of healthcare. Suddenly, he swings his computer screen round to show me a late Victorian painting of a man in a frock coat leaning tenderly over a sick baby. ‘That’s my favourite picture,’ he tells me.
For Professor Stebbing, The Doctor by Sir Luke Fildes epitomises ‘connectivity’ between doctor and patient – a word he uses often because he believes passionately that, alongside scientifically based treatment, the doctor-patient relationship is the bedrock of healthcare. He tells me this to explain why, as well as a crowded NHS list and his personal ambivalence about private medicine, he works at Leaders in Oncology Care, a private clinic, and is now supporting a startup called London Medical Concierge (LMC).
LMC is the brainchild of mother-of-four Kirsty Ettrick, following the death of her husband Neil from cancer. After his diagnosis in 2014, Kirsty ‘spent hours every night researching and calling experts worldwide to find the right medical pathway’. The search led Kirsty to Professor Stebbing, who ‘recognised that giving up was never an option for us’. Sadly, Neil died in late 2014.
The concept of LMC (londonmedicalconcierge.com) is to give patients and their families a quick, direct route to experts across a range of physical and mental conditions. ‘I wanted to lift the burden for people in a similar situation to mine,’ says Kirsty. When she approached Professor Stebbing for help, he agreed immediately. ‘This enables doctors to treat patients as we would like our own families to be treated. The problem with the NHS is the lack of speed. LMC can help in stressful circumstances by making a diagnosis quickly.’
Among the services LMC offers is fast-track second opinions, something that resonates with many people as you have no legal right to a second opinion on the NHS . According to NHS Choices, ‘You can ask your GP, consultant or hospital unit for a second opinion and a healthcare professional will consider your circumstances and whether one is needed.’
A key stipulation for both Kirsty and Professor Stebbing was that LMC should come at a price that is accessible to many people. An initial treatment plan by a team of leading experts to rapidly identify the most appropriate specialist is £195, plus VAT (the specialist’s fee is separate). More than 100 top health professionals are signed up and often see patients within 48 hours. ‘Our care doesn’t end after patients pay us,’ emphasises Kirsty. ‘After the appointment we check to see how it went, and patients can call us at any time.’ I would not hesitate to use this service myself and suggest
IMMUNOTHERAPY: THE FUTURE OF CANCER TREATMENT
● Our immune system is the body’s fighting force that protects us from diseases, including spotting and destroying cancer cells.
● Sometimes, however, the immune system does not detect the cancer cells and they develop into tumours.
● Immunotherapy reawakens a patient’s immune system to fight cancer. Research is going on worldwide into the mechanism of the immune system and tumour development – and also testing new immunotherapy treatments.
● Professor Stebbing believes immunotherapy will become the ‘backbone of cancer treatment, used in different combinations with chemotherapy or even combining one form of immunotherapy with another, which is exciting’.
Glaucoma – increased pressure in the eye – is one of the biggest causes of preventable sight loss, but 300,000 people in the UK don’t know they have it. Early detection can save sight, so the International Glaucoma Association (glaucoma-association.com) has teamed up with Vision Express to encourage everyone to have a regular eye test. Research shows that nearly four in ten people put off an eye test due to concerns about the cost, which is usually between £20 and £25.
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