Veronica Lewis is a senior nurse at West Suffolk hospital who oversaw the acquisition of the Hope for Tomorrow mobile cancer care unit by the NHS Trust a few years ago. She was tasked with putting the MCCU into operation in the community. She reflects: “It is incredible to see how the service has developed and how much benefit it is having to both the department and to the patients; I get to see it from both sides.”
Around 18% of the hospital’s current workload is carried out on the mobile units, which is steadily increasing. The units go out four days a week to four different sites, with the aim of eventually extending the hours. “It’s a resource that we really couldn’t be without. It is just an amazing place to work. You get to spend a little bit more time with patients, who get their treatment administered on time. Patient feedback has been wonderful and it’s clear just how much of a positive impact the mobile units are making. They’re able to pop in during their lunch break and have some of the treatment before carrying on their daily lives. You get to know the patients really well because you have a little bit more continuity with them. We get to sit with them and we’re able to give the nursing that we were trained to do. It’s a lovely, calm atmosphere. The patients also have less travelling time, so it’s less stress for them. Often, we find that due to the location of our units, two of which are near supermarkets, they can often come by and combine it with a shopping trip.”
“And now of course with the rising petrol prices, travelling to the hospital twice a week is an even bigger expense. At least once each week, we can get their treatment out to their local area; it’s one less journey they don’t have to make. The service is also working in different ways. We’ve got to the point where if we need to talk to patients about their oral medication, we can get it delivered to the unit for them to collect, to save them the journey to the hospital.
While the units provide life-saving chemotherapy and immunotherapy treatments, she cites the service as “going beyond this”; it’s also about all the supportive factors that come with it. “It’s sometimes these elements that make such a big impact to the patients – for example, having their lines flushed or their bloods taken. Having to travel 25 miles to hospital for a blood test the day before treatment is not an easy undertaking, so to be able to have that locally is fantastic.”
The units also offer an educational platform to those who Veronica cites the hospital wouldn’t normally be able to reach. She comments: “For example, two of our sites are stationed near health centres, which means the MCCU staff have been able to provide training to the colleagues there. This then provides the patient with more opportunities for care within the community. The emotional side of dealing with cancer cannot be underestimated so being able to support the wellbeing of a patient is very important.”
“This is the power of the mobile cancer care units due to their range of services and the ability for the community to access them. People are living longer which is brilliant and treatments are continuing for longer. We’re also able to offer support earlier in their journey than we were before.”
“One of my senior nursing colleagues who spends most of her time on the unit recently commented that the one thing she particularly loves is the rapport she builds with the patients she treats. She enjoys the level of familiarity while at the same time, she relishes the opportunity to offer the personalised care that is such a major focus of today’s nursing. As care providers, we want to talk to patients and spend time with them; to help them as best we can. The environment allows us to provide the specialist care that we’re here to give. It feels a good place to be on both sides.”
As for the future, she believes more treatments are being linked to the community. “Obviously, I think what we have to remember is that there are some treatments that have to be in the hospital setting but I don’t think there’ll be a retraction from this level of this element of patient care. To be honest, I think it will only continue to grow, evolve and change for the better.”