Yeovil Hospital Cancer specialist calls for members of the public to take cancer symptoms seriously, attend routine screenings and seek help early.

Somerset’s Cancer teams across the county have continued to keep their focus on patients with cancer throughout the pandemic, making changes early to ensure care is provided in a safe way, protecting those who could be most vulnerable to COVID-19.

The Yeovil Hospital Oncology and Haematology service began planning to relocate from the main hospital building in March 2020 to a space made available by colleagues at St Margaret’s Hospice in Yeovil. The move took place in May 2020, ensuring chemotherapy, radiotherapy and follow-up face-to-face appointments were able to continue in a very safe way. Essential cancer surgery was also able to take place due to local Private Sector health organisations – a team effort across the county and beyond.

Breast Cancer Consultant and Cancer Clinical Director at Yeovil Hospital, Caroline Osborne said: “We are exceptionally proud across our cancer services. We have run more than 10,000 appointments over the last 12 months with half of those being face-to-face at St Margaret’s in Yeovil and half via virtual appointments. These changes are likely to impact on the way we provide care in the future in a really positive way.”

But despite this, there are concerns that some people may be delaying getting the help they need due to concerns over COVID-19 or feeling guilty for stretching NHS services. Caroline added: “We have been able to continue to meet the national standards most of the time throughout the pandemic, but the occasions when we have dipped below where we would like to be, mostly relates to when patients have chosen to postpone their appointments. There can be a number of reasons for this but one pattern we have seen is a clear fear of catching Covid-19. We want to provide reassurance to those patients that we have put in place measures to keep them safe and I would like to really stress the importance of keeping to your appointment dates so our team can help your through your cancer diagnosis and treatment.

“We have also seen a reduction in the number of cancer referrals we are seeing. My main message would be, you know your own body so if something doesn’t feel right, please speak to your GP. If you are unsure about what to look out for, the Macmillan website is a fantastic source that will help you to identify what could be a cancer symptom.”

Somerset CCG GP Cancer Lead Dr Angela Beattie is keen to back this message: “Even if you feel unsure, give your GP the chance to reassure you and rule out cancer and if they feel you need further tests, they will arrange this for you. It is so important you don’t delay as the sooner cancer is detected, the easier it is to treat. You are not wasting your GP’s time so please don’t feel guilty.

“Alongside looking out for bumps or bleeding etc, general check ups are vital. If you are due a cervical smear, please book with your GP practice. Other things to look out for would be a change in a cough, especially in patients with COPD or smokers, or a cough that lasts more than three weeks that has tested negative for Covid-19.”

There are however some very positive signs, and at Yeovil in the Breast Cancer Clinic the team is seeing a 20% increase in the number of patients being referred when compared to pre pandemic numbers. Caroline said: “This is a great sign that people feel they can get the help they need and we are running weekend clinics to ensure we see everyone as quickly as possible. Now we would like to see that pattern across all our cancer services. This does mean we will be exceptionally busy, but we are ready and need to get the message out that we are here for you.”

Sharon Humby was diagnosed with Breast Cancer in the summer of 2020 and has been receiving her care with the Yeovil Hospital cancer service at St Margaret’s Hospice. Sharon said: “I am coming to an end of my treatment now having begun last summer and I can truly say that the team here really have become such a positive part of my life. The cancer diagnosis was, of course, very scary at first but I have felt looked after and supported the whole way through. I hope I can reassure anyone worried about getting that lump checked or thinking it won’t happen to them and encourage them to call their GP and just make sure. I hope you will get the all clear, but if you do get a cancer diagnosis, you can feel confident that you will receive exceptional care.”

It has been well-reported throughout the year that the NHS has been under pressure like never before, but the healthcare teams in Somerset are here for our communities, providing care as if you were one of our family and we will be there for those who need us.

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