Macmillan is still there for people with cancer in Scotland

Each year around 34,000 people in Scotland are diagnosed with cancer.

Saturday, 20th June 2020, 4:45 pm
Macmillan staff and volunteers are still available to support people with cancer across Scotland - regardless of Covid-19.

It is estimated that, right now, there are 250,000 people in the country who have a diagnosis or have been diagnosed in the past.

Very many of these people are in the high risk category for Covid-19.

So news that the shielding period had been extended to July 31 came as a blow to many people that Macmillan Cancer Support helps.

Janice Preston, Macmillan's head of partnerships in Scotland, said: “We want people to know that they are not alone."

Others still waiting on treatment or diagnosis may not even know where to turn to for advice and support.

And it’s for that reason Macmillan contacted us to stress the fact that no-one has to face lockdown alone.

Its staff are still busy working in communities across the country, albeit many are working from the safety of their own homes.

Indeed, the charity moved very quickly when lockdown was first mooted to ensure that its vital services would continue, regardless.

Janice Preston, the head of partnerships in Scotland, said: “The first thing was to make sure our helpline would still be available so we moved quickly to get staff, who are mostly based in our Glasgow office, set up to work from home.

“In the first two weeks of lockdown, the number of calls rose by one third – the vast majority looking for clarity on what impact Covid-19 would have.

“We were able to move most of our services online to make sure we were still there for people.

“All of our Macmillan nurses are also still working hard to support people.

“In fact, many are working harder than ever – supporting people going through treatment while doing everything in their power to keep them safe from infection.”

Last Monday Nicola Sturgeon announced that shielding had been extended until the end of July.

That means more than 20,000 people currently living with cancer who are shielding face another six weeks of isolation from friends and family.

While understanding that it’s for their own safety, it came as a blow for many.

Janice said: “We understand this was a very difficult decision for the government.

“Protecting the health of those most vulnerable to coronavirus is paramount.

“But as the rest of Scotland starts getting back to a level of normality, it’s also important that people who are still shielding don’t feel forgotten.

“While it’s good the government has promised to regularly review shielding guidance, we know people with cancer are struggling to cope with the isolation.

“Some are also still finding it difficult to get help with tasks like food shopping, dog walking or collecting prescriptions.

“It’s vital the government ensures everyone now facing another few months at home is absolutely clear on how to access all the help they need to meet their physical, practical, mental and financial needs – particularly as volunteers and loved ones supporting them start to return to work.”

Macmillan is also keen to ensure people who are worried about a diagnosis or are awaiting treatment know that its services are available.

And the charity is urging people who are worried about symptoms to contact their GP immediately.

Macmillan’s analysis and the Scottish Government’s own figures suggest almost 600 cancers will have gone undiagnosed if screening, paused on March 30, doesn’t resume by the end of June.

In May, the government said urgent referrals for cancer tests from GPs were almost 50 per cent lower than normal. This was an improvement from April when Scotland’s chief medical officer Gregor Smith revealed urgent referrals had fallen by 72 per cent.

With government figures showing between three to five per cent of urgent referrals result in a cancer diagnosis, this drop in referrals could equate to around 50 missed or delayed cancer diagnoses each week.

Janice said: “While the picture does seem to be improving, we are concerned about an explosion in cases when the lockdown eases.

“Screening programmes which often pick up early cancers have been put on hold and people are not contacting their GPs, even if they have symptoms.

“We would urge anyone who has concerns to contact their GP.

“While only a small percentage of cases each year – three to five per cent – are discovered this way, we don’t want people to ignore any possible signs.

“The earlier cancers are detected, the better so if you have concerns our advice would be to do something about it today.”

Macmillan is extremely concerned people who are usually signposted to the charity by GPs or the NHS won’t know where to turn for emotional, practical and financial support.

Research published last April as part of a two-yearly Cancer Patient Experience Survey found among those cancer patients who wanted it, 40 per cent hadn’t received enough care and support from health or social services during treatment.

And around a third (34 per cent) weren’t offered all the practical advice and support they needed to deal with the side effects of their treatment.

Now, with disruption to treatment, the huge pressure on the NHS and the closure of face to face services, people may be struggling more than ever before.

Janice added: “We want people to know that they are not alone.

“The majority of our services are up and running.

“Our support line – 0808 808 0000 – is still available seven days a week from 8am to 8pm. We have experienced cancer nurses, benefits advisors and financial guides who are on hand to help.

“Anyone can call the support line to get advice, information or just to talk to someone about how they’re feeling.

“We need people to know that we are still here for them and they don’t have to face this journey alone.”

Macmillan has also launched a coronavirus information hub on its website, which is updated regularly with the latest government advice.

Its online community, where people with cancer and their loved ones support each other 24-hours a day, remains as busy as ever.

And Move More classes, usually held in community halls across the country, have also moved online.

To find out about support available in your community visit www.macmillan.org.uk/in-your-area.

Like many other charities, Macmillan is facing an income loss of up to 50 per cent this year.

It has launched an emergency fundraising appeal and is urging anyone who can afford it to consider donating to fund its work.

To lend your support, visit www.macmillan.org.uk.

Buddying up to help people

Macmillan Cancer Support and Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland are working together to provide a buddying service.

The charities say many people with these conditions who are shielding or trying to stay away from people in fear of the virus, are feeling isolated, lonely and finding it difficult to undertake basic tasks like going shopping.

Jane-Claire Judson, chief executive at Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland, said: “We are so pleased to be working with Macmillan Cancer Support to ensure that we can reach even more people in Scotland who need help right now.

“Many people living with chest, heart and stroke conditions and cancer are amongst the most vulnerable and are still being advised to shield.

“That is why more people than ever before are in desperate need of our help and, working with Macmillan, we will make sure that together we can help to reduce isolation and loneliness and to keep people safe and well in their homes – during Covid-19 and beyond.

“This partnership will allow us to give people the help and support they need, when they need it most and make sure that no one is left to fight coronavirus alone.”

Macmillan’s Telephone Buddies support service was set up after the coronavirus hit, allowing its existing volunteers, many themselves classed as vulnerable to the virus, to continue providing support to people.

Anyone with cancer can ask for a regular call from a “buddy” who will check in on them regularly to chat and listen with the aim of reducing isolation.

Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland has also recruited and trained more than 5000 kindness volunteers to support people across Scotland in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The aim of the project is to keep people safe and well in their own homes.

Between Macmillan and CHSS, volunteers can offer practical help and emotional support for those who are isolated, helping them with everyday tasks like collecting medication, shopping, walking the dog or just having a chat.

Both charities recognise that many of their service users are living with multiple conditions so working together through the Telephone Buddies and Kindness Project means that people can be helped, supported and have their needs met during this very difficult time.

Janice Malone, from Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We know many people with cancer are feeling very isolated right now, while others are struggling with practical needs.

“We are delighted to be working with CHSS to set up a new service that means anyone who comes to us for emotional support will be referred to them for practical help and vice versa.

“It makes sense to work together in such a difficult time, particularly as many people with cancer will have other health conditions such as heart problems.”

To find out more about the Macmillan Telephone Buddies service, visit www.macmillan.org.uk/telephonebuddies or call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 0000 – seven days a week, 8am to 8pm.

To get help from CHSS’s Kindness Project call 0808 801 0899 or visit www.chss.org.uk/coronavirus/i-need-help.