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Transforming Cancer Follow Up: Changing patient care after treatment


More of us are being diagnosed with cancer, and more of us are surviving and living with cancer. Patient care, including follow-up care, is changing to meet peoples’ needs.

The Health and Social Care Board has led a major area of work to improve the way patients are followed up after their cancer treatment. This work has been taken forward in conjunction with the Public Health Agency (PHA), Northern Ireland Cancer Network (NICaN) and Macmillan Cancer Support.

At a workshop at Mossley Mill in Newtownabbey on Friday 24 October health professionals and patients will share their experiences and highlight the successes of the new arrangements, known as Transforming Cancer Follow Up, which challenges the traditional ‘one size fits all’ approach based around routine hospital follow-up. Instead, cancer patients receive individually tailored follow up care. For many people this means they no longer need to attend any hospital clinics.

Opening the conference, Health Minister Jim Wells said: “Unfortunately, we are all touched by cancer at some point in our lives. In Northern Ireland, there were almost 70,000 people living with a cancer diagnosis at the end of 2010. This is an indication that people are surviving longer and there must now be a greater focus on helping people to recover after treatment and make the transition towards health and wellbeing. Our services need to adapt to meet those changes.”

Welcoming this radical new approach to follow-up care, the Minister said: “Patients who need our services are at the centre of everything we do, so I congratulate all those who have worked hard developing this approach to improve patients’ experience of the cancer journey. This is a great initiative that focuses on helping people make the transition from ‘patient with cancer’ to ‘person getting on with life’ – getting their health and well-being back on track, while still having the reassurance of a point of access back into the system if required. No patient should feel abandoned during their transition from patient to survivor.”

Most people are relieved to complete their treatment but may worry about their cancer coming back. They’re not sure what signs to look out for and don’t know who they can contact about their concerns. TheTransforming Cancer Follow Up approach informs people on what to look out for. As part of the new ‘recovery package’, every patient is given their own individual care plan. Also, everyone is invited to a health and wellbeing event, and told what to do should any problem occur.

Dr Miriam McCarthy, consultant at the Public Health Agency, says: “We have listened to patients, and cancer follow-up is changing in response to their needs. The health service aims to ensure that everyone has the best follow-up care. For some people the good news is that after their cancer treatment they will not need to attend hospital unless there is a particular reason to do so. The work on Transforming Cancer Follow Up has been made possible by the generosity of Macmillan NI who provided £1.3m to develop the programme and have worked in partnership with us.”

Heather Monteverde, General Manager of Macmillan NI, says: “This is about improving care and meeting patients’ changing and individual needs. We have invested £1.3 million in this important three year partnership. More and more people are surviving cancer and now living with the condition and having to manage the consequences of treatment. That’s why we need to change how after care is provided.”

To date the programme’s achievements of Transforming Cancer Follow Up include: