Helen Wilkes has been appointed as the first mesothelioma nurse specialist in the UK to focus on helping armed forces personnel and veterans affected by the cancer related to asbestos exposure.
Based at the University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust, she will support patients from Southampton, Portsmouth, central and southern England, the Channel Islands and the Falklands.
“The role is hugely important with its armed forces personnel and veterans focus”
She will help patients from pre-diagnosis to potential outcomes and work with local support groups, raising awareness of the disease and advising on treatment and clinical trial opportunities.
The new post is funded by national cancer charity Mesothelioma UK through funding by the Treasury using Libor funds.
The government-funded initiative is intended to deliver a specialist, UK-wide service for armed forces personnel and veterans who have been affected by mesothelioma.
In her new role, Ms Wilkes will also be the primary clinical contact for Mesothelioma UK’s specialist armed forces information, advice and support service.
In addition, she will work with a new Mesothelioma UK benefits advisor based at Southampton asbestos charity, HASAG, to advise on specific benefits and compensation claims for armed forces personnel and veterans affected by the disease.
First mesothelioma nurse to focus on armed forces patients
Ms Wilkes has worked for over 10 years with lung cancer and mesothelioma patients including five years as a lung cancer specialist. Previously, was a chemotherapy nurse at Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust.
The appointment follows a campaign by University of Southampton to fund the first dedicated cancer immunology centre in the UK, which is planned to officially open later this year.
Commenting on her new post, Ms Wilkes said: “The role is hugely important with its armed forces personnel and veterans focus, given the particularly high incidences of mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos that we’ve seen from patients in the local area; with people employed at the dockyards, based here during navy service or at Fawley Power Station.
“With the developments in research through the clinical trials programme and dedicated centres such as the immunology centre set to open in Southampton in 2018, we’re getting ever closer to offering real hope to patients for their treatment and care,” she added.
Liz Darlison, Mesothelioma UK’s director of services, said: “Helen’s appointment takes our UK nursing team up to 18 now with more planned.”
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She said: “We’re absolutely committed to providing the best standards of care for mesothelioma patients and this team of dedicated professionals is helping so many people with this disease.”
She noted that the “industrial nature” of mesothelioma meant that patients and their carers often had “complex benefit and compensation claims to process”.
“The process can be even more complex for armed forces personnel as their benefit and compensation entitlements differ,” said Ms Darlison.
“Helen’s appointment and support from HASAG will target this particular group with additional and much-needed support,” she added.