Clinical teams pull out all the stops to ensure service continues for cancer patients

As many hospitals look to re-start some elements of cancer treatment this week, our teams at Newcastle Hospitals have never let COVID-19 stop them from providing critical services.

From the outset of the pandemic, the Trust made a commitment to ensure patients would not be adversely affected by the organisation’s coronavirus response and still receive their treatment for cancer - or suspected cancer.

Key services such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, cancer surgery, and diagnostic testing have continued with teams developing new ways of working to minimise the risks to patients coming into the Freeman Hospital or RVI.

However, there are growing concerns that some people are not accessing services – either because they don’t want to bother NHS or from fear of getting coronavirus.

Left to right:  Dr Gail Jones, clinical director for NCCC; Mr Jeremy French, consultant hepatopancreatobiliary surgeon; David McClinton, Matron; Dr Ian Pedley, Cancer Lead at Newcastle Hospitals

Consultant clinical oncologist and cancer lead, Dr Ian Pedley, said: “Being told you have cancer and having to start treatment can be worrying enough on its own but we know the coronavirus outbreak has created an additional level of anxiety for people.

“Our mantra has always been to ensure patients get the same access to the same high quality care and treatment as they did before. Patient safety remains our top priority and we have made significant changes to ensure our services can continue to run safely throughout this pandemic.

“We would really encourage anyone who is concerned that they may have cancer symptoms such as passing blood, feeling a lump, weight loss to contact their GP.

"The earlier patients are diagnosed the better and our teams are here for you. There are a smaller group of patients whose treatment has had to be suspended but that is a clinical decision made on an individual basis and discussed with the patient.”

In response to the pandemic, staff have developed new and innovative ways of working to ensure patients feel safe and supported.

The vast majority of consultations are now done over the phone or by video link and if patients do need to come into hospital, many clinics have allocated appointment slots so they are straight in and straight out.

Cancer patients who are due to undergo surgery are requested to shield at home for seven days pre-surgery and are also screened for coronavirus before their operation. A number of changes have been made to how we care for them as inpatients to minimise the risk of COVID-19.

Precautionary measures such as spacing main waiting areas to ensure those waiting for treatment can remain the recommended two metres apart have also been put in place and for patients’ who are symptomatic, separate clinical areas have been created to minimise the potential for symptomatic and positive patients to mix with people who aren’t.

Dr Pedley added: “Patients needing radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatment can come in for a period of weeks so the team get to know their patients and build up really good relationships with them.

“Wearing the PPE can sometimes feel like the care we provide is a little less personal but we want our patients to feel safe and know we are doing everything we can to protect them and each other.

“I’m really proud of how our staff at the Trust - and the wider regional network - have pulled together during this pandemic and that’s through the collective efforts of everyone concerned. To us this is very much business as usual.”

Cancer patient Professor Jane Turner from Medomsley in Consett, County Durham is currently undergoing treatment at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care, and is in full support of the advice given by Newcastle’s cancer experts.

Professor Jane Turner who is receiving treatment at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care

She said: “The staff here are doing absolutely everything they can to ensure they are safeguarding their patients.

“As a result, my respect and trust in the staff treating me here is at an all time high.”

Jane, who is 53, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer two and a half years ago. She has been coming to the Northern Centre for Cancer Care for chemotherapy every week since January this year.

Jane explained: “My consultant Dr Yvette Drew [medical oncologist] contacted me when there was a real shift change across the country, and at first I was able to have phone consultations rather than having to come into the centre.

“Those worked really well and I felt reassured and supported. However, I had to come in for treatment and again, Dr Drew called me to prepare me for what to expect, and in particular how staff would now be in PPE.”

Jane is Pro Vice Chancellor for enterprise and business engagement at Teesside University. She has been well placed to see first hand the preparations and training that have been delivered at Teesside, and all other North East Universities, to ensure their healthcare students are fully prepared and briefed before joining the NHS to provide support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As soon as I walked in to the cancer centre 5 weeks ago, it was very apparent that all precautionary measures had been put into place – staff were being highly vigilant, I was assured that the environment was being regularly deep cleaned and there was clear information all around.”

Jane has a very clear message for anyone who may suspect that something isn’t right, but is worried about seeking medical help.

“I completely understand that people will be juggling with the challenge of seeking professional medical advice versus the anxiety of being more exposed to the possibility of catching coronavirus.  But I cannot emphasise enough, based on my own experience and how advanced my cancer was when diagnosed two and a half years ago, how important it is to seek professional help as soon as possible, and not to be put off by the worries of coronavirus. GP surgeries and hospitals are very well prepared to protect their patients.”

Jane added: “If you do receive a cancer diagnosis, then knowing that as soon as possible gives you the best chance of being successfully treated.  If you don’t catch it early enough and the cancer becomes more advanced, the repercussions can be pretty severe.”

© Copyright Newcastle upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust 2020 Site by TH_NK