Malta has made huge strides ahead in facing and combating the challenges we constantly face in the field of cancer: a new oncology centre, new specialists in oncology, new cancer drugs are just some of the develolpments made. Amidst all this, families continue to suffer the constant battles against cancer.

Cancer patients constitute one of the most complex, diverse and growing patient populations in Malta. About 2,000 new cases of cancer are registered every year in the Maltese islands.

On average, the most common cancer sites by incidence for males include the prostate, lung, colorectum and urinary bladder whereas cancer sites ranked highest by incidence in the case of females are the breast, colorectal, uterus and lung.

One or more of the cancer patients is a family member, relative or friend and many families are suffering the repercussions of a cancer diagnosis because it affects our inner cores - our mother, our father, our sister, our brother, ourselves.Consequently, cancer results in several implications with regard to ourself, our family life, social life and society at large. Therefore, providing cancer ‘care’ is not aimed solely at treating the disease but, equally, to make the journey as positive, holistic and timely as possible.

Cancer incidence, the experiences of and feedback from cancer patients and families as well as their cry for a better quality of life and a more integrated approach to care delivery have been the trigger for the Cancer Care Pathways directorate to plan patient-centred models of integrated care for patients that span organisational and professional boundaries.

Cancer care must span the whole cancer pathway, from prevention to survivorship, palliative or end-of-life care. Hence, at an organisational level, hospitals can no longer work in silos but together. Multidisciplinary teams must play a central role to ensure that patients are navigated through the healthcare system along the whole cancer journey towards facilitation of self-care and a return to an active life and living beyond cancer.

Through the Cancer Care Pathways directorate, Malta hit the headlines at Kingston University, London, and the University of Stirling, in Scotland, for its efforts to improve cancer care.

Cancer care must span the whole pathway, from prevention to survivorship, palliative or end-of-life care

The universities’ websites and twitter have made special reference to the work being carried out in identifying patient needs in relation to care coordination, continuity of care and timely care for cancer patients.

Researchers and staff members at the UK universities have also praised the initiatives being undertaken in Malta in the development of information for cancer patients, survivorship initiatives, care pathway mapping and the exploration of patients’ barriers towards cancer services, just to mention a few of the initiatives.

Judi Curtis, senior lecturer at Kingston University, believes that the expansion of care and the wider spectrums in cancer care reflect the holistic approach, strategy and vision of the Cancer Care Pathways directorate and the Ministry of Health in Malta towards Maltese patients, their families, Maltese society in general as well as future generations.

Gill Hubbard, co-director at the Cancer Care Research Centre in Stirling, is delighted that a partnership exists between the School of Health Sciences, the University of Stirling and the Cancer Care Pathways directorate in Malta.

Hubbard affirms that the research being undertaken by the Cancer Care Pathways directorate will expand the international evidence about cancer screening and cancer care pathways. European collaboration will also foster further research in the important area of cancer services.

Angus Watson, a consultant surgeon and director of research and development in the Highlands of Scotland, wholeheartedly supports the efforts being made in cancer care in Malta.

He is committed to work with the Cancer Care Pathways directorate to better understand cancer screening and cancer care both in Malta and Scotland.

He feels there are areas where joint working can improve cancer care delivery in both countries.

Likewise, there are a number of areas of excellence in terms of social care in Malta that can be utilised in the Highlands.

Such type of collaboration encourages us to step up the fight against cancer. The contributions made by various stakeholders, enriched by the collaboration and joint working at both national and international levels, can foster a more integrated cancer system of care for citizens.

Together with existing and new partners, the Cancer Care Pathways directorate is building on past work to integrate hospital-based services to design care systems that provide integrated care across multiple settings. It will be possible to achieve such targets by looking beyond the four walls of hospitals and into the community and by integrating palliative care earlier in the patient journey.

Much remains to be done to truly provide patient-centred integrated care across the cancer continuum and, although this is a difficult and continuous target, it is a realistic and golden opportunity for Malta to give cancer care the priority it deserves.

Danika Marmarà is director of Cancer Care Pathways directorate.

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