Supporting vulnerable cancer patients through Covid-19

Pictured left to right are Lucy and Alix

No part of the NHS (or the world) has remained untouched by the Covid-19 pandemic, however, for our Living With and Beyond Cancer team, which supports cancer patients through their diagnosis, treatment, and life after that, it meant they had to completely reconsider how they provided their service.

Finding alternative ways, other than face-to-face, to support our patients, resulted in phone calls to over 800 patients to see how they were doing; and not just once either, they received several calls throughout their treatment and for up to a month afterwards.

This has had such positive feedback that it will continue, in a slightly streamlined format.

Alix Holmes, our Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Manager, said: “It was set up to check on patients who were on active chemotherapy, some whose treatment was paused or stopped, and those shielding. We know this was a difficult time for our patients and some were left feeling vulnerable and isolated due to having to shield, and not having face-to-face appointments with their clinicians.

“It was a real team effort as our complementary therapists, who were unable to run their service, called patients, as did Daphne Birmingham, our Macmillan support worker, who only joined us in January. Some of our patient partners who couldn’t be on site also helped by making calls from home.

“We put together a holistic assessment form which was a lifeline for some people as this ensured we checked whether they were supported, including having someone to do their shopping while they were shielding, how they were emotionally and advised on keeping active. We also signposted them to appropriate services as required within our Trust and the community.”

Our complementary therapists even made up support packs to help patients manage side effects from their treatment, including relaxation leaflets and aromatherapy sticks, which were also hugely valued by our patients.

With complementary therapy restarting next week (14 September) at Queen’s Hospital, this telephone support can’t continue in exactly the same format. However, the team will continue to run it sustainably. All patients on chemotherapy will now get a call after their first course, another around half-way through their treatment, then a full holistic needs assessment via a telephone clinic once they’ve finished their treatment. This is something we wouldn’t have through possible before the pandemic.

They’ve also had to look at innovative ways of providing other aspects of their service, including workshops and events which attract high attendance. These include our EMPOWER programme, quarterly post treatment health and wellbeing events, Look Good, Feel Better make-up masterclasses, and the HOPE programme.

Lucy Brooks, Macmillan Living with and Beyond Cancer lead, said: “Initially everything had to grind to a halt when Covid hit and while our patients were really understanding; we wanted to find new ways to support them.

“We’ve filmed our EMPOWER presentation with our Medical Photography team, and will share a link to this with patients. We’re also planning to film the information talks covered in our post-treatment event. In each case, we will then set up a virtual event to allow people to ask questions and meet each other online. We had planned to launch a carers’ support group when the pandemic started, so now we’re hoping to get a group up and running via MS Teams. And we’ve have held a couple of Look Good, Feel Better sessions virtually.”

Alix and support worker Daphne also provide support and advice to patients and their families on any aspects related to living with and beyond cancer. This was something they’ve been able to continue to provide over the phone and via email during the pandemic.

She added: “We’re hoping that by filming some of our sessions and sharing these with our patients, we may actually be able to reach more people as they don’t have to take the time out to attend in person.

“It’s been a really interesting time, especially in how we’ve been finding lots of ways to do things differently. We’re looking forward to the launch of the virtual EMPOWER sessions next month.”

Pictured top are Lucy and Alix (l-r).

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