Redbridge’s elderly cancer patients shouldn’t be ‘written off’, says Macmillan

Cancer sufferer Frances Levy

Cancer sufferer Frances Levy - Credit: Archant

Older patients shouldn’t be “written off” when it comes to cancer treatment.

Cancer sufferer Margaret Mitchell

Cancer sufferer Margaret Mitchell - Credit: Archant

Macmillan Cancer Support says more than 130,000 people in the UK have survived for at least 10 years after being diagnosed with cancer when they were 65 or over. Yet UK survival rates in older people are among the worst in Europe.

Dr Ian Grant seeing a patient

Dr Ian Grant seeing a patient - Credit: Archant

So how are chiefs at Redbridge’s hospital trust dealing with older cancer patients?

Barking, Havering and Redbridge University Hospitals NHS Trust (BHRUT), which manages King George Hospital in Barley Lane, Goodmayes, and Queen’s Hospital, in Romford, took part in a pilot scheme in 2012, backed by Macmillan, to test new models of care.

It looked at new methods of clinical assessment for older people with cancer; short-term practical support packages for people having treatment and promoted age equality in cancer services.


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The scheme also saw Macmillan and the Citizens Advice Bureau advise patients on how to claim benefits and grants.

The trust’s divisional nurse director, Judith Douglas, said: “People with cancer often find themselves struggling financially.

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“They may be unable to work and also face extra expenses such as travelling to and from treatment, expensive special dietary requirements and even increased heating bills because they are less able to tolerate the cold.”

The scheme also saw a case worker based at the hospitals to provide financial advice.

And the trust is now recruiting a specialist elderly care physician and nurse.

Frances Levy, 91, was treated under that scheme.

She has been diagnosed with breast cancer twice – in 2008 and 2011.

Her journey back to full health has seen her endure an operation to remove a lump, a procedure to remove the lymph nodes in her left arm and radiotherapy.

However, she is stoic when talking about the illness.

She said: “You get used to it. There is always someone worse off. Although I was more than surprised when it [cancer] came back as they usually give you five years [in the clear].

“But I must say I can’t fault the NHS or the Macmillan nurses.”

Frances, who was not given chemotherapy because of her age, added: “I didn’t know anything about chemotherapy at that time and you have to listen to them [the medical staff], they know what you need.

“The radiotherapy was difficult, every day for six weeks I had to go to Queen’s Hospital. It was a bit of a chore, but I went.”

Pensioner Margaret Mitchell, of Newbury Park, is receiving chemotherapy at Queen’s for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She was diagnosed a year ago.

She said: “I had something abnormal in my hip, but it took ages to get a diagnosis and my GP didn’t want to do a referral so I had to go private [at first].

“The hip has never been painful, I was just limping all the time. I feel fine otherwise; I feel very lucky.”

Margaret is on her third course of chemotherapy, with more to come in due course.

She said: “I am very happy with the hospital, they have been so good to me. I have had no bad experiences and they haven’t left a stone unturned.”

Ciarán Devane, Macmillan’s chief executive, said many older cancer patients can live for a long time and can even be cured given the proper care.

“It’s wrong to write off older people as too old for treatment,” he said. “With a proper assessment and appropriate treatment, our research shows that.”

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