Psychology team supports patients – and NHS staff

Psychology team supports patients – and NHS staff

A team providing psychological support for people affected by cancer has helped more than 347 since its launch in February 2017. The Macmillan Psychological Support (MAPS) team, operating across Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust, works with patients, their families and the NHS colleagues who support them.

Between 10 per cent and 20 per cent of people diagnosed with cancer will experience psychological distress that may benefit from a specialist intervention according to National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) figures. This rises to about 50 per cent of people whose cancer has returned or who have advanced cancer. Carers and close family members commonly experience anxiety and depression.

People referred to the team – funded for two years by Macmillan Cancer Support – are contacted within a week and then booked in for an assessment within four weeks. They will usually then receive six to eight sessions of psychological support which might include cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance and commitment therapy, systemic therapy working with their family, or psychotherapy. Support can continue for longer if a patient needs it and they can draw down help when they need it most. The service works closely with the psychological support services delivered by Dimbleby Cancer Care at the Cancer Centre at Guy’s Hospital – meaning patients can get the care they need closer to home.

All health professionals should now provide basic Level 1 psychological support to people with cancer and clinical nurse specialists are trained to provide more help to Level 2. The MAPS team supports people with higher needs – Level 3 and Level 4 – who may have mental health issues or who are not making progress with lower levels of support.

To support NHS colleagues, team members provide cancer clinical nurse specialists with monthly supervision and time to reflect and have also taken part in “away days” with oncology ward staff. They attend oncology ward rounds at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Greenwich to identify patients who might benefit from the service

Dr Clare Reeder, Macmillan Principal Clinical Psychologist, leads the team of a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist and a palliative care counsellor.

She said: “For many people and their families, their experience of cancer is a traumatic one. Feeling distressed can be a normal response, but sometimes people can feel stuck with difficult emotions and unable to move forwards.

“We see people for a range of difficulties including anxiety, low mood, relationship difficulties, concerns about physical changes or worries about death and dying.

“Because we are helping people to live with cancer and beyond, we don’t have a cut-off date. Even when someone has finished treatment they can come back for support. Working with patients with cancer can take an emotional toll on staff and we also aim to promote a culture where staff feel supported.

“This is a service that has been long-awaited and it has been received very positively by patients, families and staff. We are now looking forward to some exciting new developments including offering workshops for families and resilience training for staff.”

Dr Reeder is working with colleagues at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College Hospital to agree a South East London Cancer Alliance model for Level 2 psychological training. This will be for cancer clinical nurse specialists and allied health professionals and help ensure a consistent approach to ongoing supervision and practice updates across the six boroughs.

The psychological support leads across the Alliance are also engaged in Transforming Cancer Services for London work to improve pathways for people in need of psychological support during or after cancer treatment.