SPECIALIST lung cancer nurses have been deployed as part of a pilot to minimise the amount of time patients spend in hospital during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Macmillan thoracic nurses, who care for patients following lung cancer surgery, are travelling to patients’ homes to provide medical care and social, emotional and psychological support.

It is part of a pilot scheme at South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, which was funded by a £50,000 grant from Macmillan Cancer Support, and is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.

The first patient to receive a visit at his home in Neasham, Darlington, was Andrew Naylor, 62, who was discharged three days after an operation to remove part of his lung.

Darlington and Stockton Times:

Cardiothoracic surgeons Jonathan Ferguson, Ian Paul and Joel Dunning with specialist Macmillan thoracic nurse Stacey Stockdale and the team’s new vehicle

He said: "Prior to the operation and directly afterwards the care I received from The James Cook University Hospital was fantastic.

"Having to shield I didn’t particularly want to go back into hospital so I was pleased when they said they would come out to see me.

“It’s the first three weeks after your operation when the concerns kick in as you are still on medication, still in pain and still wondering what’s coming next.

"It’s just nice knowing they are going to be there and the reassurance you get from a home visit is far better than a phone call.”

The pilot is aimed at reducing the number of patients who need to be readmitted to hospital, reduce the risk of to patients getting a potentially life-threatening case of coronavirus and allow patients to maintain social isolation for 12 weeks after their surgery.

The Macmillan funding has enabled the team to take on a fourth specialist nurse and lease a white SEAT SUV to get them to patients’ homes over the next 12 months.

The nurses can answer questions about surgery, recovery and symptom management, oversee pain control, refer patients to therapists if they have any breathlessness, treat wound issues and provide test results.

Last year surgeons at South Tees performed more than 800 thoracic cancer operations, the majority of which were lung cancer related.

Jonathan Ferguson, consultant cardiothoracic surgeon said: “We want to pick up and treat these lung cancer patients quickly, but then get them safely back home as soon as possible with the right support in place.

“With patients being better prepared for surgery and adopting enhanced recovery principles such as healthy eating, regular exercise and quitting smoking, they recover quicker and are increasingly being discharged earlier.

“However, it can be really hard emotionally and psychologically when a patient has had a period of intense care on a hospital ward to suddenly find themselves back at home.

“This specialist community support for patients who are being discharged early is an innovative approach to a nationwide problem which enables us to identify any problems and intervene early, reducing the burden on community services and preventing hospital readmissions.”

Tina Thompson, Macmillan partnership manager for North East England, said: “This is an incredibly anxious time for people with cancer. Recent analysis by Macmillan showed that the UK is second only to Spain when it comes to cancer patients avoiding hospitals and other healthcare settings, and an international study by YouGov and Imperial College of London in April found that three in four people with cancer in the UK had completely avoided medical settings the previous week.

“This anxiety makes this pilot scheme so important as it enables people with cancer to continue their treatment as safely as possible at the same time as reducing their anxieties about regular attendance at hospital during the pandemic.

“We’re delighted to be able to work in partnership with South Tees Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to make sure that cancer doesn’t become the forgotten C.”