Guest Blog written by Christine Husbands, Managing Director of RedArc.According to Macmillan, up to 50,000 people could be living with undiagnosed cancer as a result of delays to NHS services caused by Covid-19. Unless cancer services are better protected, Macmillan has forecast that this number could double in the coming year.
Not only has Covid-19 impacted diagnoses, it has also had a significant effect on waiting times for treatment. An estimated 44,000 people in the UK should have started cancer treatment but have been unable to do so because of the disruption caused by the virus response.
The NHS is under pressure coping with the additional demands of COVID-19 patients as well as many other knock-on effects to other services. Coupled with the anxieties felt by those with health conditions, concerns about travelling, use of public transport and attending medical settings all leads to a situation where many people are not accessing the medical help that they should be.
Naturally, this has had a profound effect on the psychological state of many.
Treating patients as people
The emotional toll of lockdown restrictions has been well-documented, with the mental health charity Mind reporting that 60% of adults have experienced a worsening of mental health due to the pandemic. Naturally, this will be heightened in people living and dealing with cancer who are shielding from loved ones, often managing their treatment and attending appointments alone, and struggling to see a light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, even before the pandemic, 15-20% of cancer patients admitted to experiencing depression during treatment and beyond.
A cancer diagnosis and all that follows is a worrying and often a very complicated time for the patient and their families, so having access to a professional with plenty of time and expert knowledge can make a huge difference. For some people, dealing with cancer is a very personal issue and they may choose to keep their diagnosis, treatment and progress to themselves. For others, dealing with the disease itself and its impact on themselves and their families is emotionally draining.
At RedArc, we believe that emotional support isn’t just a ‘nice-to-have’ but a necessary and valuable part of treatment for people living with serious illness, like cancer.
In recent months, our phone based registered nurses have recognised an increased need for emotional support. Call times are longer, and more emotional, as for some patients it is their only opportunity to hear another person’s voice during the week as restrictions have caused them to be starved of social interaction and connection. Many use these calls to talk through their progress and concerns without time pressures,. Often, patients worry that they are a burden or ‘a nuisance’ but at RedArc we do everything we can to ease that feeling and make them feel as supported as possible.
As a support service, RedArc can’t treat those caught up in the NHS’s cancer backlog caused by the pandemic but we can provide proactive and personalised information and emotional support to make life easier for those affected. By joining forces with digital services such as Careology, we are empowering our nurses to do just that.
Optimising emotional support
The looming cancer crisis will not suddenly come to an end once the Covid-19 pandemic is over. The full extent of the aftermath for both clinical treatment and emotional care is still to be realised, but is likely to last for years within the NHS. The wider healthcare ecosystem will have to adapt - whether that is by embracing new digital technologies or incorporating practical advice and emotional support service providers like RedArc.
Finding ways to help patients self-manage on a day to day level is key, providing them with the autonomy that is often taken away by a cancer diagnosis. This is where Careology’s digital cancer care plays a role, for example the journal feature in the app offers the patient the ability to share their information with their nurse, enabling them to check on their patient’s mood over a longer period of time, thus gaining a more comprehensive view of their mental health during treatment. Careology can also empower the patient’s wider support network, their family and friends, to provide better emotional support by giving them crucial insights into their loved one’s experience of cancer treatment. As a result, this provides a truly holistic and accessible, 360º approach to wellbeing care. To provide the level of comprehensive and personalised care that everyone living with cancer deserves, technology needs to be blended into person-led care.
Naturally, in the near future, we want to see everyone living and dealing with cancer have access to personalised emotional care from diagnosis to discharge and through to long-term physical and emotional recovery. We envisage a proactive effort on the part of the ecosystem to support patients and their families to navigate a difficult time together. We hope that partnerships such as that of RedArc and Careology will be the first steps on this road.
To learn more about RedArc please visit their website.