Pioneering project to offer support to cancer patients

Oxford Mail: Prof Michael Sharpe and Matron Hayley Smith Prof Michael Sharpe and Matron Hayley Smith

CANCER sufferers and other patients will get psychological support at Oxford hospitals through a project believed to be the first of its kind in the UK.

A full-time psychiatrist and three mental health nurses are expected to be hired by the autumn to lead the scheme.

They will work with patients to offer them specialist support alongside their treatment, rather than having to go to separate services.

The psychiatrist will split their time between cancer patients and other divisions, with £200,000 a year budgeted for cancer patients.

Eynsham cancer campaigner Clive Stone, 66, who won a 2007 battle to get a drug for his kidney cancer on the NHS, welcomed the news.

He said: “I have been shouting for ages about the fact that if you are living at home alone with cancer like I am, you see your consultant every six weeks and that’s it. “There is a big hole where we don’t get support from the NHS.”

About 300 out of the 3,000 people seen each year at the Oxford Cancer Centre at the Churchill Hospital, Headington, are expected to seek help.

There are also plans to get a psychiatrist for the Women’s Centre, and another for Oxford Children’s Hospital by the end of the year.

Another for clinical neuroscience – for patients with conditions such as epilepsy – is also expected to be in place by the end of 2014.

Project leader Prof Michael Sharpe said: “Oxford’s medical hospitals have not really had much in the way of psychological support for patients.

“This is novel in the UK, to work in a completely integrated way is quite groundbreaking.”

“There has been very limited support for cancer patients, almost nothing other than what they might get from their GP.”

He said people frightened of whether they will be in pain will be talked through treatment, while other issues that can be tackled include finances and family.

Prof Sharpe, who developed the scheme with trust director of clinical services Paul Brennan and oncology lead Dr Claire Blesing, said: “It is about making patients feel in control of their lives and being re-engaged with life. Depression can have a huge affect on their quality of life and ability to take cancer treatment.”

Research shows 60 per cent of depressed cancer patients who get such support see a substantial improvement within six months, he said.

“There is a national push toward patient-centred care rather than different problems being dealt with by different services.”

Trust psychiatrist Jane Walker, who works at Headington’s Sobell House Hospice two days a week, said such support is vital.

She said: “It is about helping them find their own solutions the way they have always coped throughout their life.”

The Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust plan builds on a scheme for in-house support that saw 20 psychologists and eight psychiatrists spread across departments in March last year.

Since 2004, Churchill patients have been able to get psychological support from the site’s Maggie’s charity.

Centre head Claire Marriott said: “Support for people with cancer is incredibly important and we are delighted that more will be available.”

A Cancer UK spokeswoman said: “This recognises the importance of providing psychological support for patients who need it.”

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