Posted on Thursday 16 July 2020
Georgia Hornsby, Acting Sister, Chemotherapy
Cancer patients are getting essential tests closer to where they live, and before life-saving chemotherapy, thanks to a new initiative from Guy's and St Thomas', and St John Ambulance.
The move is part of efforts to minimise potential exposure to COVID-19 for patients who may have a compromised immune system following treatment.
Nurses and phlebotomists (people trained to take blood from patients) from Guy’s Cancer Centre are now carrying out essential blood tests, and other procedures that need to be done 48 hours before chemotherapy, from one of three mobile cancer centres.
The service takes place in a St John Ambulance treatment centre, in car parks outside easily accessible locations such as supermarkets and pharmacies.
The treatment centres are currently located at Boots in Clapham Junction, Tesco superstore in Elephant and Castle and Waitrose car park in Beckenham.
Christine Harley, 76, from Beckenham, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in February and has had three rounds of chemotherapy at Guy's Cancer Centre.
Christine, a former radiographer, was given the option to have the blood tests at the mobile cancer service in Beckenham, ahead of her fourth round of chemotherapy. She said, "It was very quick and just the same as going to the cancer centre, except it's more convenient.
"My daughter or son usually take me up to London and it can take 45 minutes, with all the traffic even now - then after you wait a little, you get the test done. It can be all the morning or all afternoon.
"The mobile cancer service is a really good, positive idea, especially when you have weeks and months on this treatment. You are not bumping into different people or waiting around. I'd rather stay local than go up to London."
Dr Catherine Oakley, chemotherapy nurse consultant at Guy’s Cancer Centre, said: “Some cancer patients are at particular risk of COVID-19 and other infections due to a compromised immune system following treatment and chemotherapy.
“If there is anything we can do to minimise potential exposure to the disease by reducing the number of trips patients have to make to the cancer centre, on public transport, that has to be a good thing.
“Our mobile centres are safe and clean – patients can drive up and wait safely in their vehicle before we send them a text message to call them into the ambulance for their test.”
Before cancer patients can undergo chemotherapy they are required to have a blood test. This means that vital checks are carried out to ensure that the liver and kidneys are working well and blood count levels are at the correct levels for treatment.
The service has seen around 500 patients since the project began on 28 April, and expects to see 15 to 20 patients per day from now on.
St John volunteer, Toni Whiteing, who coordinates the scheme for the charity, said: "Our volunteers have had such a warm welcome from the clinical teams and the patients, many of whom have said how they feel much safer and protected from the virus, thanks to the mobile centres. For our volunteers, being part of this in their local community is hugely rewarding; we feel incredibly proud to be involved in supporting these patients at a time when they may be feeling vulnerable, especially due to COVID-19."
The project, which is supported by Guy's and St Thomas' Charity, has been developed by Guy's Cancer with the South East London Cancer Alliance and is available from Guy’s Cancer Centre in London Bridge, Guy’s Cancer Centre in Sidcup and Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, Queen Elizabeth Hospital site.