In 2011, more than 331,000 people were diagnosed with cancer in the UK. Coping with cancer is one of the most difficult things that anyone will have to deal with. Finding appropriate care and treatment can be a life-consuming process, not only for the person with cancer, but also their family. We visited the Harley Street Cancer Concierge to find out about their groundbreaking approach to cancer care and treatment.
Co-Founders Darren Rowe and Alan Mackenzie were introduced in 2011, when Alan’s wife was referred to him to discuss personalised treatment options.
Securing the right types of treatment and meeting with the relevant doctors is a job worthy of an army of assistants. Given that there are 200 different types of cancer, each with different causes, symptoms and treatments, this is a monumental task. Having dealt with this logistical minefield, Alan knew there needed to be a smarter, more refined process to secure ongoing treatment and care for his wife. Together, they began to build a highly skilled team, specifically devoted to helping cancer patients and their families. The company remains totally independent, ensuring that each patient is referred to the most appropriate consultants and clinics for their cancer.
Darren Rowe is the Co-Founder and Managing Director of HSCC. He spent much of his career in the commercial side of oncology. Prior to HSCC, Darren was the UK General Manager of an American personalised oncology company, based at Johns Hopkins University Hospital in Baltimore.
“Alan and myself were sitting in a clinic whilst his wife was having surgery. They had travelled down from Scotland in the hope of finding the best treatment on Harley Street.
Whilst we were talking it became very obvious that they had found it very difficult to find the right doctor who was offering and had access to the right type of treatment, the right type of technology. They found it very frustrating. Even though they had the resources, it became a full time job almost. What he was telling me wasn’t new; I’d seen it numerous times over the past few years. So we realised there was a better way of helping patients navigate their way through treatment. I had a huge network of specialists I knew from around the world, particularly in London and America, and so the idea really came into our minds that evening. That was about two years ago.
The whole service is designed to help people find the right treatment, the right doctors and to connect them very quickly, whilst at the same time supporting them through the entire process. Unlike some of the bigger clinics in the US, the private sector in the UK is quite disjointed – although in London, it’s excellent. The treatment quality is outstanding. Some of the doctors that work there are internationally recognised. You couldn’t ask for a better level of service. But what you find is the treatment is often made up of different clinics, different hospitals, all working relatively independently. It can be quite difficult for a patient to navigate through that process.
Cancer treatment can change very quickly, almost on a daily basis and that can have a huge knock-on effect for patients’ family members, in terms of organising accommodation and transport, schooling and child care – things which one doesn’t really think about immediately.
We have established an internationally well-known group of advisors who come from different parts of the cancer treatment field. Oncologists, surgeons, pathologists and researchers – people who are at the very top of their game, working at some of the most prestigious institutions around the world. These people are actively involved in research that is really changing the way cancer is being treated.
Harley Street is a melting pot for the brightest doctors in the country, as far as I am concerned. If you look at the technology that is available and the treatment choices, they are far more varied on Harley Street than anywhere in the country. The doctors on Harley Street are the most senior doctors in the country. And as I said, they have access to treatments which most doctors just don’t have.”
Professor Justin Stebbing is one of HSCC’s consultant advisors and arguably a leader in the field of cancer research and treatment.
“In my normal day, I’m a professor of cancer medicine and oncology at the Imperial College London. I’m very lucky in that I have worked in what I consider to be the finest hospitals in America and Europe. Something that has been missing from a lot of the care given thus far from places like the Marsden, to Oxford, to Johns Hopkins is what we call joined up care. This is where patients feel like they are perfectly looked after, even if the outcomes aren’t perfect. What I mean by that is, the one thing disease can do, particularly the diagnosis of cancer, is make you feel like you’ve lost control. You only remember certain proportions of what physicians, health care workers, surgeons and radiotherapy experts tell you. It can be bewildering and confusing. It can be some of the most distressing times of anyone’s life.
So what HSCC do, essentially, is make that care joined up. They integrate between different specialists and different people, provide comfort for the patient, provide an extra pair of ears to listen, an extra pen and paper to write things down. Someone to really work with the support staff. We try as best as we can to make the medical care of that individual and their family as joined up as possible.
It’s not just about looking after their medical condition and the cancer, it’s about the whole patient, dieticians, beauticians, aromatherapists, homoeopathists. It’s about integrating everything together. Wherever I have worked up until now at HSCC, that has been missing. What I find interesting about HSCC is that, not only did they hold the patients hand and lead them down the path of least resistance, their work is incredibly invaluable for the doctor treating an individual.
When I have patients that have a HSCC care package, I know that patient will be looked after, that appointments will be made and the individual will know what they are for.
We are at an inflection point in oncology. When I started my career, 25 years ago, I would say we cured about 40% of the people. 10 years ago it rose to 50%. Now it is at 60%. That means living to old age and dying of something else; it doesn’t mean the old definition of five-year survival. That’s not just because of one thing, that’s because of better surgery, radiotherapy, hormonal therapy, targeted therapy, a revolution in genomics, proteomics and mobile health. Everything is changing, the world is changing. We are making exponential developments in genome sequencing and our understanding of what we are treating. Because of that, the cure rate is going up. But in order to get there as efficiently as possible, in a personalised medicine environment, it requires a lot of coordination. It requires someone in charge and someone to take charge.”