Striving to make the complex simple, Emma Blades is a vital link between staff, patients and their treatment
In 2012, 338,623 people in the UK were diagnosed with cancer. Statistically, only half of that group will live 10 years past their diagnoses. New technology and treatments continue to increase survival rates, and oncology nurse Emma Blades at Nottingham University Hospitals Trust is hard at work putting these into practice.
Ms Blades was inspired to go into oncology and look into new treatments after working with a patient who had a brain tumour: “I was in such awe of the patient’s treatment, I thought I might like to do something similar. I’ve never gone back; I’ve always stayed in oncology.”
Working in oncology and research, Ms Blades helped implement two new therapies: selective internal radiotherapy (SIRT) and contact (Papillon) radiotherapy. Both techniques are internal and apply a high dose of radiation directly to a tumour while limiting damage to the surrounding tissues.
“At Nottingham, we are proud of the service we have set up, and I have been allowed to expand my role quickly,”
While SIRT was officially approved as a treatment only two months ago, contact radiotherapy was used in the early 20th century, but is making a comeback in the UK – especially for colorectal cancer. NUHT has one of the four clinics in the country that provides these two therapies.
Fourteen months ago, Ms Blades was appointed clinical nurse specialist for SIRT and contact radiotherapy. This makes her one of 10 SIRT specialist nurses and the only contact radiotherapy specialist nurse in the country.
“At Nottingham, we are proud of the service we have set up, and I have been allowed to expand my role quickly,” she says.
As well as her day-to-day nursing responsibilities, Ms Blades has set up two telephone follow-up clinics.
“Patients phone in and we can monitor and treat any side-effects that occur as a result of either of the radiotherapy procedures,” she explains. “We knew when we started doing these therapies that there would need to be something externally patient centred. Patients don’t always want to stay in the hospital or come back in for a follow-up. The phone service bridges that gap.”
The reception from patients and hospital staff has been encouragingly optimistic in regards to Ms Blades’ service: “It’s been so successful!” she says. “We’ve had a lot of positive feedback. These procedures are complicated to explain and can get confusing. Patient education is so important to any kind of treatment: people need to know what to expect.”
“We want to make any treatment as easy as possible for those accessing our service”
Ms Blades uses her specialist knowledge to simplify the patient care pathway, from ordering and organising surveillance scans, managing toxicities, and ensuring the patients understand their treatment. She also liaises with all levels of professional healthcare.
“We want to make any treatment as easy as possible for those accessing our service,” she says. “We have built a fluid multidisciplinary network within the trust to support and streamline these procedures, and have been keen to develop nursing in its own right.”
Ms Blades’ extensive work connecting patients and health professionals has earned her the title of SIRT coordinator. “I ensure every aspect of the pathway is taken care of to provide a seamless service, as well as a patient-centred approach,” she says.
Moving forward, Ms Blades sees areas where SIRT and contact radiotherapy could be better implemented. “As both treatments get more backing, it’s essential to have things like the telephone service alongside the medical treatment,” she says.
I am very enthusiastic about my role and the treatment of patients accessing our service. I feel very honoured to do this job.”
“It should be more cohesive in the long term, as well as need based and outpatient focused. We’re also very keen on putting specialists in the pathway to ensure high-quality, innovative care.”
Ms Blades has received an outstanding amount of support for these services and is hopeful of their extension across the UK.
“The consultants I work with have been immensely supportive and allowed me to increase my skills to improve patient care. I am very enthusiastic about my role and the treatment of patients accessing our service. I feel very honoured to do this job.”