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Health Matters: Highland team can help to support you on cancer journey

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Macmillan community support workers provide help to cancer patients and their families.
Macmillan community support workers provide help to cancer patients and their families.

Receiving news of a cancer diagnosis can be shocking and extremely hard to process at any time, but particularly at this time of year, writes Marie McWilliams.

People’s thoughts can often turn to what the future may hold for them and their family, as well as trying to understand the enormity of what they have just been told.

The NHS Highland Macmillan community cancer support workers provide a non-clinical, supportive service that can help people talk through their feelings and emotions in an informative, respectful and empathetic way.

When a patient is referred into the service we discuss their immediate concerns. We can signpost directly to clinicians or services across Highland, Argyll and Bute to support them and their families and can conduct a holistic needs assessment.

This helps us to understand what support the person affected by cancer needs, and what their most pressing non-clinical concerns might be. Many of the people we work with understandably have a wide range of worries and concerns, such as anxiety about finance, thinking about the future and feeling lonely or isolated.

It is our job to provide reassurance and advice, as well as recognise that many of these concerns and worries may impact on physical health.

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The service was established in early 2020 and is funded by Macmillan Cancer Support and the Scottish Government. In the two-and-a-half-years Since the service began, we have dealt with over 1900 requests for support, including over 1000 referrals from NHS Highland’s Macmillan community nursing teams, and over 550 from clinical nurse specialists working in hospital settings across our board area.

The feedback we have received from patients and their families has been extremely encouraging, and we also have strong working relationships with our clinical colleagues. We receive referrals from hospitals and GP practices, as well as our Macmillan colleagues working in communities the length and breadth of Highland, Argyll and Bute. We also receive referrals from the communities we serve. You can contact us on nhsh.cswservice@nhs.scot in the Highland Council area or nhsh.CSWserviceAB@nhs.scot if you live in Argyll and Bute to self-refer or refer a loved one into the service.

People affected by cancer are always at the heart of everything we do, and although we work closely with family members we must always have the permission of the patient before conversations with loved ones can begin.

We play a small role in supporting people and families through one of the most challenging periods in their lives, and it is a privilege to get to know the patients and their families. We meet people at such an emotional time and we provide a service which is empathetic and compassionate to the needs of the patients’ and their loved ones. We also provide practical support and guidance, such as signposting to support services for financial matters, community groups and organisations and even helping to sort out care for pets during hospital stays.

The team have a varied background from a range of sectors, including nursing in the community and pastoral care. Our team have strong local community links and relationships across our area. This is vital when supporting people to remain connected with their communities.

We are very much at the heart of the communities we serve and that is crucial for a service such as ours.

We understand that it is the small things that can make the biggest difference to how people are feeling and our team are always working to make life a little bit easier for those we care for.

– Marie McWilliams is NHS Highland’s Macmillan person centred project lead for the cancer support worker service.

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