Hepatocellular carcinoma in Scotland: a new action plan for better care

Posted on: 24th February 2021

As part of the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, the British Liver Trust is working with the Scottish Government to improve care and support for all hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) patients in the country as part of a new Action Plan for Cancer Services.

Vanessa Hebditch, Director of Policy and Communications at the British Liver Trust, says: “In Scotland HCC has increased by 21% over the last decade, and it’s the seventh most common cause of cancer mortality[i]. Despite this, much more work is needed to provide these patients with the same level of support, information and care that people with other cancers receive.

“By working together with other charities in the taskforce, we have a much louder voice to influence healthcare policy and have managed to get real traction with the Scottish Government. We were really pleased to be able to attend the meetings with the Scottish Government and represent people with liver cancer.”

The new action plan includes several recommendations from the Less Survivable Cancers Taskforce, including having a single point of contact for each HCC patient.

The Scottish Government have agreed to invest £3.55 million in the action plan. Ms Anya Adair, Consultant Transplant and Hepatobiliary Surgeon at Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Clinical Lead of the Scottish HepatoPancreatoBiliary Network and member of the British Liver Trust’s Clinical Advisory Group, has put in a bid to secure funds from this investment to test and fund the introduction of this new role to support HCC patients.

The idea is that each liver cancer patient will have a specific person who can improve seamless care and join up sections of the pathway on their behalf.

The vision for the new role is that every patient:

  • Has a single point of contact for discussing questions or anxieties related to their clinical care from the point of referral
  • Receives timely and accurate advice on their appointments, tests and results
  • Has the chance to discuss what non-clinical support may be available for them and their family, following a cancer diagnosis
  • Understands their treatment plan and expected timelines for treatment delivery
  • Be supported and reassured where they had a suspicion of cancer but did not receive a cancer diagnosis
  • After discharge, be provided with advice on self-management and available services

Liver cancer pathway

Ms Anya Adair played a crucial role in making sure that liver cancer services are considered as part of the plan. The new report specifically states that a first priority will be to work with the Scottish Hepatobiliary Network and support clinical consensus on the redesign of liver cancer pathways – the clinical journey that liver cancer patients take from their diagnosis onwards.

Ms Adair says: “As a healthcare professional I know that people with primary liver cancer often have poor outcomes compared with other cancers such as breast or bowel cancer. To improve patient care for people with liver cancer, I’ve recommended that patient investigation pathways are streamlined where possible, so patients can be treated more efficiently. We also need every patient in Scotland with hepatocellular carcinoma to have access to specialist nurses in the future.”

[i] Statistics - British Liver Trust