Macmillan works hard to counter downside of being remote

Picture: Ian Rutherford
Picture: Ian Rutherford
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Country dwellers deserve best of care, writes Janice Preston

Living in one of Scotland’s many remote and rural areas has many benefits, from spectacular wildlife and beautiful beaches, to traffic free roads and low crime rates. It is, for many, the perfect place to live.

However, just like in urban areas, many people here are affected by cancer. In fact, due to the high number of elderly in these areas, a particularly high percentage is affected and, with estimated figures which show that by 2020 almost half of us will experience cancer in our lifetime, it was recognised there is a growing need for cancer care and support.

Macmillan wanted to ensure that we began preparing for this now, which led us to a partnership with NHS Highland and Argyll and Bute Council to look at the expansive area of Argyll and Bute, with a population of around 90,000, 17 per cent on islands. Only last year, some of these people would have to travel around 200 miles to Glasgow for cancer treatment. As anyone that has been through it will know, even short journeys when you are going through gruelling treatment for cancer can be uncomfortable.

Working with NHS Highland and Argyll and Bute Council, Macmillan began to look at how we could develop existing services to cope with increasing demand and transform cancer care in the area. This resulted in Macmillan investing £1 million into the area.

We began with £300,000 expansion and refurbishment programme for the chemotherapy suites in both Mid Argyll Hospital in Lochgilphead and Lorn and Islands Hospital in Oban. While some people may still need to travel to see specialists in particular cancers, this has allowed more people to be given chemotherapy locally and reduced the numbers having to travel to Glasgow.

Mid Argyll Hospital’s chemotherapy suite has been completely refurbished and moved into a larger area to allow comfortable use of chemotherapy chairs, and create a therapeutic environment for patients and carers. We also introduced a relatives’ room to provide overnight accommodation so that family and carers who live further away from the hospital can stay and provide support during their care.

Over in Lorn and Islands Hospital, the original chemotherapy area was set up 12 years ago and in a small side room in a medical ward. Over the years the service has seen a steady increase in demand and in the complexity of treatments and more palliative patients being treated. The new specifically designed chemotherapy suite not only provides a more pleasant and welcoming environment for patients and carers, but there are also now two private areas with a much-needed information point for patients and carers, a pharmacy room and quiet private area for those who would benefit from privacy and confidentiality.

Macmillan also invested £50,000 to introduce new accommodation at Campbeltown Hospital. The Macmillan Sunroom provides relatives visiting seriously ill cancer patients overnight accommodation close to their loved one in hospital. We also have a partnership with The Dochas Carers Centre to provide a free counselling skills service for carers throughout Argyll and Bute.

The other major part of care provided to people affected by cancer is the team of highly skilled Macmillan health professionals in Argyll and Bute who provide cancer patients with much-needed care in hospital and in the community. There has been continued support and investment in the team to ensure they can continue developing their skills and provide the highest levels of cancer care.

However, it’s not only treatment that affects people. Cancer impacts almost every aspect of people’s lives. It can bring huge financial problems, even among those that were financially secure before diagnosis. Support dealing with the practical and emotional impact of the disease is also significant, both for the individual directly affected and all those around them. Last year saw the opening of the first Macmillan Cancer information and support service in the area in Campbeltown and Rothesay libraries. These much-needed local support services were developed in partnership with Argyll and Bute Council, NHS Highland, and Argyll and Bute Third Sector Interface, and have already been having a huge impact on people locally affected by cancer. The opening of these services means that cancer patients now have emotional and practical support on their doorstep.

A recent evaluation of the services showed that local cancer information and support was hugely valued. Having these services in libraries provides people with somewhere local, trusted and non-medical. They are all led by volunteers, many of whom have been personally affected by cancer, which has also been found to be highly valued by people affected by cancer. Talking to others who have gone through similar experiences has often left people feeling less alone and more positive. The success has led to Macmillan investing a further £300,000 to expand the service across Argyll and Bute.

Macmillan is also currently funding a £50,000 scoping exercise to introduce an activity programme to help people affected by cancer to move more. We know that advice used to be that rest was best, but research has shown being active can help recovery and reduce loneliness and isolation. We hope this will help us identify where there is most need for this type of programme.

This investment of £1m would not have been possible without the tremendous support we receive from people in Argyll and Bute who donate their money and their time to allow us to provide services for people affected by cancer. We have such great support from people in this area so ensuring we are there for them when they need us most is our thank-you to each and every one of them.

Janice Preston is Macmillan Cancer Support’s general manager in Scotland