Almost half of patients told they have cancer are given no information about the disease or their prognosis, and 45 per cent only get between 5 and 14 minutes with the doctor at the diagnosis, according to a survey.
About 1 in 10 hears the bad news from a GP over the telephone, while 11 per cent say they were told on the ward or in a hospital corridor.
The survey by Bacup (British Association of Cancer United Patients) revealed many distressing examples of communication breakdown between doctors and their patients, according to Jean Mossman, chief executive. "One patient who had had a blood test was told over the phone "Oh yes, it was positive, you have got leukaemia," she said.
In another incident a specialist spotted a patient with his wife in a corridor and launched into the diagnosis: "There is something nasty in the family."
Speaking at the launch of Bacup's new patient guide for people living with cancer, The Right to Know, Ms Mossman said that 95 per cent of patients say it is vital to receive as much information as possible. "Nobody deserves to be treated with indifference or not given the whole truth," she said.
Tom Sackville, the health minister, said the guidelines provided the essentials for good practice for professionals and health authorities and covered the impact of cancer on patients and their families, what information they were entitled to receive and how to tailor the information to individuals. "[The Government] is making substantial organisational changes to cancer care, what Bacup is doing is complementary to that," he said.
About 600 patients took part in the telephone survey during October.
t The Right to Know; large SAE from BACUP, 3 Bath Place, Rivington Street, London EC2A 3JR; Freephone helpline available on 0800 18119.Reuse content