Launched in November last year, Macmillan in Lanarkshire aims to offer patients practical and emotional support during their cancer journey.
The pilot project has since supported 59 people at the Lanarkshire Beatson herceptin clinic and the lung cancer clinic at University Hospital Monklands.
A unique partnership between Macmillan and NHS Lanarkshire, its aim is to ensure cancer patients can talk to someone about their non-clinical concerns.
It’s a sad fact that people diagnosed with the disease don’t just worry about getting through treatment but also their jobs, finances and relationships too.
That’s where Macmillan in Lanarkshire volunteers come into their own. For they have oodles of information at their fingertips.
Craig Tobin, the project manager, is delighted with its success so far.
He said: “NHS staff don’t always have time to have these conversations with patients when they come in to receive treatments.
“But they can now refer patients to our volunteers so we can help signpost them to services readily available in their local communities.
“It’s a complementary service, working hand in hand with the NHS, and it’s been very successful so far.
“Often, treatment can become a routine for people and once it’s finished they are left in limbo wondering what’s next.
“By meeting them earlier in their cancer journey, we can help them through it and find the support they also need, post treatment.”
Initially, Macmillan staffed the pilot project but volunteers are now very much at the forefront.
Craig said: “Our volunteers are amazing. One is a retired nurse, another a cancer survivor so they both have great insight into the cancer patient journey and can empathise with the people they meet.
“Volunteers are from a variety of backgrounds but they all receive accredited training and are overseen by the volunteer manager who ensures they are equipped for the role.
“The most important thing is that they have local knowledge about services available in communities.
“The volunteers provide a stepping stone to services here in Lanarkshire.
“If you hand someone a leaflet at a time when they’re likely to be most anxious, they probably won’t read it.
“Our volunteers provide support for patients but also help them tackle any concerns they may have.
“Finances, benefits and transport are always major issues.
“Help is out there but patients don’t always know where to access it – they are often surprised to discover what is available. We’re here to help them with that.
“We can also direct them to complementary therapy sessions at our drop-in centres in local libraries, as well as Move More or Active Health classes.
“We’re here to help families and carers too.
“Often they don’t know how to talk about cancer and the patients don’t want to burden their families.
“We can help advise them so that those conversations are a lot easier.”
Susan McBride is a big fan of Macmillan in Lanarkshire.
She was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in October 2015 and has been receiving herceptin every three weeks since at the Lanarkshire Beatson clinic.
Susan (55) said: “The nurses are amazing but don’t always have the time to talk to patients about emotional and practical support.
“Just having someone to talk to while you’re waiting for your treatment can be a huge support.
“I know this service is helping a lot of women who attend the clinic.
“It’s a very simple but brilliant idea and it’s already having a big impact.”
The pilot project may also be laying the foundations for Macmillan’s Improving the Cancer Journey (ICJ).
ICJ has already been a success in Glasgow, Dundee and Fife – and Lanarkshire could be next.
Working with a range of partners, Macmillan’s ICJ offers people with cancer time with a link worker to talk about their needs. A care plan is then created, with the patient being offered help to access a range of services.
It has been so successful the Scottish Government’s cancer plan, published in spring 2016, promised £9 million to roll it out.
The work currently being done in Lanarkshire looks to be paving the way for its introduction here.
ICJ would see Macmillan work with a wide range of partners to ensure all cancer patients’ needs are met, even in the most rural of areas.
Drop in services at libraries
Being told you have cancer can affect so much more than your health – it can also affect your family, your job and even your ability to pay the bills.
That’s why, from the moment of diagnosis, Macmillan is there to help peoople find the best way through their cancer journey so they are still able to live life as fully as they can.
Macmillan in Lanarkshire aims to ensure that people receive not only the best clinical care but also have the emotional and practical support they need.
The new service is being run by the same team which runs Macmillan information and support services in libraries across Lanarkshire.
Drop-in sessions are held in East Kilbride Library every Monday from 10am to 2pm; Bellshill Cultural Centre on Tuesday and Friday from 11am to 1pm; Hamilton Town House on Wednesday from 11am to 1pm and Coatbridge Library on Thursday from 11am to 1pm.
Macmillan in Lanarkshire supports the lung cancer clinic every Monday from 9am to noon and the herceptin clinic at the Beatson every Friday, also from 9am to noon. The team can also be contacted on 01698 332604.
Since its launch in November, the project has helped 59 patients at the two clinics.
Lynn Mack, NHS Lanarkshire’s haematology and cancer service manager, said: “It is our hope that this service will result in an overall better patient experience, ensuring the needs of cancer patients are met not just clinically but bridging the gap to social support too.
“The meet and greet model in the waiting rooms of the two Lanarkshire clinics is providing vital signposting to services for our patients.”
For information and support, Macmillan’s help line service is also available Monday to Friday, from 9am to 8pm, on 0808 808 0000 or visit the website www.macmillan.org.uk.