The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

Flowers for receptioni­st ‘will get you best NHS care’

- By Sarah Knapton The Daily Telegraph

Cancer expert reveals top tips for patients to navigate a system that is ‘failing thousands of patients’

Science editor

CANCER patients who want the best treatment from the NHS should take flowers or chocolates to the doctor’s receptioni­st, a leading oncologist has claimed. Prof Karol Sikora, formerly

Chief of the World Health Organisati­on’s cancer programme, said it was important to “get the people at the bottom of the pyramid on your side”.

In a new book designed to help cancer patients navigate the system, Prof Sikora said it was important to “start with the receptioni­st” because they often had the most control over appointmen­ts.

“She can be a very powerful ally in your care,” he wrote. “Get to know their names, and always use them. And give her a small gift. What will work perfectly for you is to give the receptioni­st a bunch of flowers, a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates.

“Wait until the third or fourth appointmen­t so you already know her a bit, and at that point make a small gesture to thank her for her help. Don’t be too generous. That will just embarrass everyone – a bottle rather than a case of wine is just right.

“Get the people at the bottom of the pyramid on your side and you will very quickly find your whole experience is transforme­d – and your chances of living through this will be dramatical­ly improved.”

In his book, Cancer: the key to getting the best care – making the system work for you, Prof Sikora advises a strategy of “polite persistenc­e” which he claims is more crucial than ever in an era of eyewaterin­g waiting lists.

More than 7.3 million people are now on NHS waiting lists in England, up from 4.4 million before the pandemic. NHS data show that nearly half of cancer patients are waiting too long to start treatment, with up to 7,000 patients a month not receiving their first course within 62 days following an urgent GP referral.

In April, Freedom of Informatio­n requests revealed that some patients have waited up to 671 days for a diagnosis or all-clear, and 469 days for treatment.

Prof Sikora told that he had been accused of encouragin­g patients to play the system to jump the queues.

“I understand why the idea has been criticised, but if you have cancer then you need to put yourself first,” he said. “Some see this book as an insult to the sacred cow of the NHS – I say it’s about putting cancer patients in the driving seat and giving them the tools they need to get the best outcome from a system which will not always automatica­lly provide it.

“A little kindness goes a long way and can often have its own advantages for the patient too.”

He added: “The system is failing thousands of cancer patients. It’s a hard truth, but it’s a fact none the less.”

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