On Friday 7th June we were pleased to welcome back Paula Bond, the regional Macmillan Involvement Co-ordinator who had helped us to apply for our funding last year to set up the group. She came with her colleague, Nici Bauckham, Macmillan Development Manager, in order to catch up with how we were getting on & for them to let us know of several exciting developments both regionally & locally within Macmillan.

Firstly Nici explained her role, working with existing Macmillan staff (nurses, social workers, GP’s, benefits advisors) to provide them with support, as well as helping to set up new developments.

Currently there are several new initiatives taking place outside the hospital setting. In Wiltshire Macmillan are working on a new library information service, whilst in Wiltshire & Dorset a partnership with Citizens Advice Bureaux has been extended, with six Macmillan welfare benefits advisors based in Dorchester (covering the various localities of North, West, Central & South Dorset) , & two in Bournemouth & Poole.

Closer to home are projects centred around Dorchester. Macmillan are looking at patient feedback at Dorset County Hospital to highlight areas of treatment which have gone well, & more importantly to identify areas which did not go well in order to learn from this & improve the service. DCH have been chosen as a Pilot Site for the Electronic Holistic Needs Assessment (EHNA)Tool and will be taking part in the National Project to explore early assessment of Cancer Patients needs. Plans are being discussed to scope the Information provision for Dorset, exploring the current information services and improving links.

Finally there are plans to appoint some Macmillan GP’s, whose role will be to “champion” cancer developments and improve cancer related education across the county to primary care colleagues.

So all good news for people in West Dorset!

We went on to share some of our experiences of difficulty accessing reliable information along our own cancer journeys. The change in attitudes towards cancer, with it having a better survival rate than ever before such that it is now considered to be a “long-term condition”, along with other chronic diseases, was acknowledged. We raved about FORCE in Exeter, & Nici plans to visit it soon for ideas! The need for something similar in West Dorset was stressed, along the lines of a Health & Wellbeing Clinic – maybe in one of Poundbury’s wonderful new buildings! Let’s talk to Prince Charles!

One group member then recalled her feelings of isolation when her care was moved from one hospital to another more distant hospital, such that she no longer had easy access to a Cancer Specialist nurse for much needed support. Nici immediately acknowledged this gap in the service & offered to liaise with the Lead cancer nurse at the relevant hospitals to get an idea of how many patients may be in a similar situation.

On the plus side, Dorset is one of the best counties in the country for cancer treatment “success rates”. The results of the latest patient experience survey are awaited. However it has the highest number of elderly cancer patients, & highest number of cancers diagnosed in A&E (so there is much work to be done in earlier diagnosis of cancers).

Towards the end of the meeting Paula shared some fliers, Macmillan booklets & promotional material for a few other recent projects. “Walking for Health” has been set up as a joint initiative with The Ramblers organisation, encouraging people to get active during & after cancer treatment, & provides a network of health walk schemes in towns & villages across England. Numerous courses & workshops are available to help with all things needed by those affected by cancer. More information is available on the “Learnzone” section of the Macmillan website. Finally Dorset is taking part in one of four national pilots to offer an advocacy cancer service for help & support to those affected by cancer over the age of 50. The Dorset Advocacy Service has funding to run from January to December of this year, & is using volunteer advocates with some knowledge of cancer related issues to help others.

All in all a really informative & positive meeting! As well as learning a lot from Nici & Paula we also managed to tell them of all the wonderful things happening with The Living Tree. Paula seemed really pleased at how much we have managed to do in such a short time (thanks to the hard work of Jo O’Farrell, our amazing secretary who sadly couldn’t be there). We have been encouraged to contact “Exchange” (the quarterly Macmillan newsletter) who do a regular feature on support groups, to share our experiences of setting up The Living Tree.

We could have gone on talking for hours!