‘Consistent access to trusted support is key to improving outcomes’

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The breast cancer workforce has been under increasing pressure for many years, and for the first time, we are hearing healthcare professionals raise concerns not only over patients’ experiences and access to timely treatment, but also around the wellbeing of themselves and their colleagues, including how they are experiencing burnout and compassion fatigue.

Staffing issues, combined with increasingly large and complex caseloads is resulting in increased pressure on staff, and many are struggling to provide the level of care they would like.

“We know that one size does not fit all, and patients need to be central to decisions around their care”

In a recent session I ran with colleagues at the UK Interdisciplinary Breast Cancer Symposium, hosted by Breast Cancer Now, we heard from a multidisciplinary team that included patient representatives, about how these challenges are impacting breast cancer treatment and care, and how they are working together to overcome these and ensure patients receive the best possible care.

One of the key topics discussed was the importance of listening to patients to find practical ways of making meaningful improvements, which is something we do through our service pledge.

This innovative programme supports Cancer Alliances, healthcare professionals working in hospital breast services and patients, to work collaboratively and share experiences to enable everyone to work together and develop and deliver improvements.

We know that one size does not fit all, and patients need to be central to decisions around their care.

Our service pledge programme has supported over 140 breast cancer services across the UK and there are some common issues raised by patients.

Many patients report frustration with delays in clinics which can cause them anxiety and stress.

Using something as simple as a whiteboard in reception to update names of staff on duty and any clinic delays can make a huge difference for patients and reduce their stress levels around knowing, for example, whether they have time to go to the toilet or get something to eat or drink before their appointment, or how long their partner will be waiting for them in the car park.

There is information and support resources available to meet the needs of breast cancer patients. We want to support and empower healthcare professionals to be aware of, and help develop, support services within their local areas, as well as signposting patients to organisations like Breast Cancer Now.

Breast Cancer Now provides life-changing support for anyone affected by breast cancer through its helpline, online forum and face-to-face information and tailors the support it gives to each patient’s specific needs, preferences, or concerns.

Our Here for You referral route offers people diagnosed with breast cancer personalised and timely access to all of Breast Cancer Now’s trusted information and specialist support via a single healthcare professional referral.

Once referred, patients are contacted to discuss their support needs and to ensure prompt access to services which complement their clinical care.

By encouraging patients to understand their specific information and support needs, and to access support available, healthcare professionals alleviate pressure on themselves and their colleagues, whilst maintaining good patient care.

Providing consistent access to trusted support and information is key to improving patient outcomes and quality of life and can help towards achieving the aims of the NHS long-term plan.

Sally Kum is associate director of nursing, healthcare professional engagement and health information at Breast Cancer Now

Contact information

Healthcare professionals can refer patients through the Here for You online referral form which can be accessed at breastcancernow.org

Breast Cancer Now is the research and support charity here for anyone affected by breast cancer. Call their free helpline on 0808 800 6000 to speak to their expert nurses or find out more and donate at breastcancernow.org

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