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Those living with cancer in West Norfolk continue to be supported through service at King's Lynn hospital

Support continues to be on offer for those living with cancer in West Norfolk during the pandemic.

The Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre at Lynn's Queen Elizabeth Hospital (QEH) is managed by Vicky Mitchell and Caroline Howarth.

They have managed to maintain their five-day service by observing strict social distancing measures and safety protocols.

QEH Macmillan information manager Vicky Mitchell. Picture: Macmillan
QEH Macmillan information manager Vicky Mitchell. Picture: Macmillan

This includes wearing face masks, which are mandatory for all staff and patients, and which can be freely obtained on entering the hospital by visitors who don’t have their own.

Vicky and Caroline are operating a drop-in service for patients and carers who are already attending cancer clinic appointments, and continue to provide practical, emotional and financial support via telephone for anyone who is not scheduled to attend hospital.

Vicky said: “We know this has been a particularly difficult time for people living with cancer and their families, and while it can be tempting to put on a brave face and tell everyone that everything is fine, you really don’t need to with us. Whatever you want to talk about, we’re here.”

QEH Macmillan Information Manager Caroline Howarth. Picture: Macmillan(42718814)
QEH Macmillan Information Manager Caroline Howarth. Picture: Macmillan(42718814)

The team has seen patients’ needs change or become more complex as a result of the health crisis, which has led many to feel isolated from their support networks at the time they need it most and caused concern over the continuation of their cancer treatment.

This has been a setback for patients’ mental wellbeing, say Vicky and Caroline, whose centre is located in the Macmillan Care and Treatment Centre at the hospital.

But by working closely with clinicians and local partners such as local councils and giving people the time they need to talk through their worries, they are helping patients to manage their daily lives.

Vicky said: “Patients receive an excellent level of clinical support from our doctors and nurses and our service compliments that support because we have time to sit and talk to people about their other concerns and worries.

“If they’ve been given some difficult news and need time to process the information they’ve just heard, they can come in for as long as they need to.”

Caroline added: “A couple of patients have said to me that they didn’t realise they’d be as anxious as they are. Some people can cope very well with their cancer but having Covid-19 to deal with at the same time can be the one extra thing that makes everything else feel totally overwhelming.

“They’ve been anxious about going outside, even as the shielding measures have been relaxed and that’s especially hard when people don’t know what the future holds for them. Having some semblance of normality is often what keeps people going.

“Even for people who are healthy, this whole episode has been unbelievable, but for people dealing with cancer, it’s been simply awful. We mustn’t let cancer become the forgotten ‘C’ of this pandemic.

“Perhaps you don’t feel comfortable discussing your fears with family and friends, or maybe you just feel scared about the future, but you can always talk to us."

Financial concerns are also often an issue for people living with cancer.

Caroline said: “Cancer treatment can be a drain on your finances when you’re having to pay for journeys to hospital appointments or find yourself with higher energy bills because you feel the cold more and need the heating on.

“Families who weren’t necessarily struggling before can find themselves struggling now, and we are here to help people living with cancer understand their options when it comes to accessing financial support.

“They may be eligible for a Macmillan Grant, which we can help them apply for, and we can also refer them for a telephone appointment with a Welfare Rights and Benefits Adviser.”

The team also helps people apply for blue badges for their vehicles, access practical support at home through local community services and seek emotional help through NHS counselling services, where appropriate.

The centre's HOPE (Help Overcoming Problems Effectively) course has been temporarily replaced by an online version provided centrally by Macmillan, to provide people who have finished or are nearing the end of cancer treatment or surgery with the techniques they need to keep moving forward.

Sheona Evangeli, Macmillan partnership manager in the East of England, said: “In this unprecedented situation, the way the teams at our local Macmillan services have adapted to ensure they are still able to support people is fantastic.

"The safety of patients is of paramount importance to all our professionals and they are taking every precaution to protect those coming in for face-to-face support.

“At a time where Macmillan’s support is needed more than ever before, we are also facing a significant drop in our income and the truth is that we can’t continue to be there for people who need us without the support of the public. Donations are vital to enable us to continue to be there for people living with cancer.”

Anyone affected by cancer in West Norfolk can contact the QEH King’s Lynn Macmillan Information and Support team on 01553 613985 (Monday-Friday, 9am – 5pm, excluding Bank Holidays) or by emailing MISS@qehkl.nhs.uk.

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