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Cancer survivors advised to request post-treatment care plans

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Guidance to help nurses become better patient advocates for cancer survivors has been developed by a group of nursing experts as part of an initiative to drive up standards of follow up care.

The guidance, shared with Nursing Times, is a list of 10 “top tips” that nurses can give to their patients (see box).

It is designed to encourage cancer survivors to request assessments of their emotional and physical needs, as improving cancer survival rates lead to the condition being increasingly viewed as a long term condition.

The list has been developed by the Consequences of Cancer Treatment Collaborative, a group of nurses and allied health professionals set up by Macmillan Cancer Support and the Department of Health.

For example, it highlights that patient should ask a “nurse, therapist or doctor”how they are “likely to feel in the next few months”following treatment. It also advises patients they can ask their hospital to create an end-of-treatment care plan.

End-of-treatment care plans are not yet widespread across the NHS, but the group said it believed patients requesting them more routinely would encourage clinicians to improve the care offered to cancer survivors.

Collaborative member and senior cancer nursing lecturer at Dundee University Mary Wells said: “Survivorship is currently a massive issue for the health service.”

“The way we currently provide follow-up care doesn’t really meet the survivors’needs and it’s probably unsustainable given the increasing number of cancer survivors,” she told Nursing Times.

The present system was based in many cases on appointments with surgeons or oncologists, focussed on monitoring for recurrence or side effects, she said.  

But she said short follow-ups of this kind were unlikely to “get to the bottom of”the kind of psychosexual problems some patients experience after cancer treatment, and were “less geared”towards encouraging self-management and improving patients own knowledge.

10 top tips for getting the best post-cancer treatment support

  1. Discussing your needs with a healthcare professional at the end of treatment
  2. Seeing a copy of your end-of-treatment assessment and care plan
  3. Finding out who is your ongoing ‘main contact’in the hospital team
  4. Being aware of any post-treatment symptoms
  5. Getting support with day-to-day concerns like money, work and family issues
  6. Talking with your GP or main contact about how you feel
  7. Taking steps towards healthier living
  8. Finding out more about what to look out for if you are worried about treatment side effects or the cancer coming back
  9. Monitoring your own health and keeping up to date with ongoing check-ups
  10. Making suggestions based on your experiences of treatment and care
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