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Adapting services so we can continue to support people affected by cancer during the COVID-19 pandemic

We adapted the Macmillan Information and Support Service in West Lancashire to ensure patients and their families could still feel connected to and reassured by us during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Solutions included offering virtual sessions to promote good health and exercise, helping clients access wider support such as applying for grants or finding someone to deliver the weekly shop, and gifting sunflowers to patients to let them know that we were thinking of them.

Over three months we had almost 1,000 remote contacts with our clients.

Virgin Care
Virgin Care

The challenge

Having a cancer diagnosis can be traumatic and overwhelming for many people and their loved ones, and can affect the physical, psychological, spiritual and social aspects of a person’s being. It can cause feelings of anxiousness and a loss of control, and with the added complication of the COVID-19 pandemic that fear has been increased and heightened.

Therefore, it was important that we adapted services supporting those affected by cancer to ensure that patients and their families could still feel connected to and reassured by us.
Here is an example of how we rose to the challenge in West Lancashire, where Virgin Care hosts the Macmillan Information and Support Service, funded by NHS West Lancashire Clinical Commissioning Group.

The solution

Many clients are socially isolated, unable to work and have mental health problems or are lonely; so we prepared them in advance for the inevitable closure of the support centre and ceasing of face-to-face appointments. We updated various organisations such as the hospital trusts; voluntary, community, faith and social enterprise organisations, West Lancashire Council for Voluntary Services and West Lancashire Borough Council, and used social media to advertise the current status of the service to ensure stability and continuity of our offering.

We initially contacted all the cancer patients active on our caseload to see:

  • If they have received the Covid-19 shielding letters. If not, we registered them on the website and provided guidance.
  • If they were socially distancing, and did they require support for shopping, prescriptions etc. If they did, we registered them with the council for ongoing support and food parcels.
  • If there had been a financial impact on the person and whether they were eligible for accessing grants. We worked closely with the local Citizens Advice Bureau on benefit advice and to see if any of our clients would benefit from their IT isolation scheme which can provide free devices and ongoing support to become more IT-aware and reduce the risk of isolation. We also supported patients in accessing Macmillan grants.

We have been assessing the emotional impact on patients and are keeping in regular telephone contact with those who require ongoing support.

We have offered a number of digital solutions to support clients. We consulted to see if they would like to participate in virtual sessions on building resilience, chair-based exercises, relaxation and promoting good mental health in partnership with Lancashire Adult Learning. We are now working with Lancashire Adult Learning (LAL) to build the curriculum for the whole year to support clients on the above classes as well as craft to relax, mindfulness, nutrition, men’s health and much more. We have supported and encouraged clients to set up WhatsApp groups to stay in contact with each other and reduce the feeling of isolation, especially for those who live alone. We have also transferred our three-monthly support group meetings on to video chat and increased them to two meetings a week. In addition to this, a WOW (Women on Wednesday) group has been implemented following feedback that female clients wanted their own protected time.

We contacted participants who attended our previous HOPE course, which is a Macmillan/Coventry University programme to support people to help build their resilience, move forward following a cancer diagnosis and have the tools to face and adapt to their ‘new normal’. We were able to identify those who are struggling again due to the pandemic, provide support and direction, and help their mental health and wellbeing to improve.

To support our new ways of working, we also introduced a new spreadsheet to ensure that our communication and information sharing pathway is robust between team members working from home, ensuring continuity of service for the client in real time, and encouraging agility and adaptability of the team and service to evolve our offering as Covid-19 unfolds.

On top of all this, we also sent a gift of sunflower seeds to 86 patients in the West Lancashire community to let them know we were thinking of them and give a wellbeing boost to some of our most vulnerable patients. There is a now a competition to see who can grow the tallest flower!

The difference

To date (early June 2020) the team has had 988 remote contacts with clients.

Macmillan grant applications were processed within three days which has been a huge benefit to those unable to work especially the self-employed who have registered for benefits and have little or no income coming in.

Courses delivered in partnership with Lancashire Adult Learning are all fully booked. They have also been offered to colleagues at GP surgeries in West Lancashire and Virgin Care colleagues.
Clients have given positive feedback on the sunflower project, as below.

“I’ve just received the sunflower seeds, thank you. Really put a smile on my face, how thoughtful you are.”

“Thrilled to have received the sunflower seeds. It has brightened my day. I feel really uplifted.”

“Can I say a huge thank you for the seeds. What a fabulous thought, I had a little cry. I am ever so grateful and promise to plant them.”

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