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Hope for Tomorrow launches ‘world first’ next generation unit for mobile cancer care

New unit enables access to wider option of vital remote healthcare treatment

On Friday 5th November, Hope for Tomorrow launched their next generation state-of-the-art fully mobile medical cancer care unit, a ‘world first’ in healthcare innovation, designed to change the way care is delivered.

In a unique partnership with the NHS, the next generation mobile cancer care unit will visit communities to offer a wide range of services including accessible daily clinics, cancer screening and education programmes, and a variety of treatments. It will be operated as a pilot scheme by Airedale NHS Foundation Trust, helping them to achieve NHS England’s 62-day cancer target for at least 85% of patients to start a first treatment for cancer within two months (62 days) of an urgent GP referral.

There are the facilities on board to run a range of patient education and information clinics, meaning that ultimately patients will need to spend significantly less time attending hospital-based appointments. Staffed by NHS oncology experts, the unit will improve access to cancer services for communities where geographical, cultural or financial barriers may exist. Aiming to reduce the health inequalities that exist within these communities, the unit will also enable more patients in the region a choice of where their cancer care is delivered. Without compromising on quality or consistency of care, patients on board will benefit from reductions in the travel distance, time and costs involved with regular treatment.

Embracing digital innovation

Manufactured here in the UK, the unit includes two hydraulic powered consultation rooms which expand from its side. Each room will be fully connected with digital facilities so that patients and staff on board are able to connect remotely to the main hospital if necessary. Being attached to its HGV chassis means the unit is fully mobile and can be moved from location to location with ease.

Combatting the Covid backlog

Hope for Tomorrow designed and launched the first mobile cancer care unit in 2007 in Cheltenham. Since then, the charity has continually developed its fleet which grew to 13 units by the beginning of 2021 and the charity now employs 14 people. 12 mobile cancer care units are currently allocated to NHS Trusts, with two units remaining in reserve ensuring minimum  interruption to service. Throughout the Covid-19 crisis, available reserve units were deployed to support NHS Trusts wherever possible, allowing vital cancer services to continue where they may not otherwise have been able to. Hope for Tomorrow are also providing support with tackling the backlog caused by the pandemic; enabling treatments to take place away from the hospital environment and protecting this vulnerable patient group while helping to reduce the spread of Covid-19. In 2020, the units delivered 24,492 patient treatments.

The units deliver longer-term benefits to the NHS, in the form of a more streamlined Patient Pathway and the additional capacity on hospital sites for more complex treatments, supporting partner Trusts to meet NHS England targets.

Mental health benefits

Moving cancer care closer to patients has proven health and wellbeing benefits. In some cases, once initial consultations and first treatments have taken place, mobile cancer care units allow for the removal of hospital visits for all of a patient’s treatments. The associated reduction in travel and waiting times delivers a vastly improved patient experience, reducing stress and anxiety levels.

Tina Seymour, CEO of Hope for Tomorrow said: “This unit has been three years in the making and the result is a testament to our relentless commitment in making crucial cancer care more accessible for all. By facilitating educational and support sessions within a community, the unit will allow NHS staff to provide life-saving information, such as self-examination guidance from specialist breast care nurses. The potential for urology clinicians to host catheterisation sessions for patients and a range of other clinics will enable patients to spend significantly less time attending hospital-based appointments.  

The need for more services like this is crystal clear and reflected in the increasing engagement we are seeing with key organisations. A number of outside agencies have also expressed a desire to support patients with services that go beyond healthcare from within the unit. Organisations including Citizens Advice and Be Clear on Cancer are investigating how they can offer services such as financial advice and benefit support via the unit.”

Funding next generation care

Hope for Tomorrow receives no statutory funding and relies entirely on donations from the general public, corporate donations and other private funding bodies.

Building the unit was made possible by a generous grant of £747,764 from global pharmaceutical company Bristol Myers Squibb (BMS).  The grant has been donated to cover the build costs of the next generation unit as well as another unit which will be built to existing specifications.

The unit has been named ‘Christine’, in memory of the charity’s founder Christine Mills MBE who died in 2018 from cancer.

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