The pathway to Mobile Cancer Care – A Nurse’s Story

Name: Patricia ‘Pat’ Dyminski

Job Title – Lead Chemotherapy/Haematology/Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist

NHS Trust: Airedale NHS Foundation Trust

MCCU Name – ‘Linda’

Pat qualified in nursing in 1983 and quickly established herself on the path to specialising in oncology and haematology care. Pat’s passion and enthusiasm for her work has only grown over time. This passion was in abundance when we explored the role Pat played in securing a mobile cancer care unit for her NHS trust in 2018. Pat explains:

A passion for patient centric care

“I had wanted to put chemotherapy into the community for over 10 years.

In an area like West Yorkshire patients are often travelling to hospital from very rural locations for treatment and we have a large catchment area to serve. The treatment itself can be gruelling, the hours spent travelling, reliance on friends and family, interruption to day-to-day living, cancer and treatment can take over your life.

There’s also a lot of pressure on the hospital based day unit for treatment. Patients can experience long wait times and it can be quite stressful for them.

By delivering treatment closer to the patients’ homes we could really have a positive impact on the patients’ pathway.”

Pat began looking into solutions and was able to organise a pilot project. This was run out of a small rural hospital, patients in the community could receive their chemotherapy far closer to home.

“The pilot was so well received by patients. However, expanding it out to serve more than one community was going to need a huge amount of investment. It would involve adapting suitable venues in areas around the hospital to allow us to do this safely.”

The perfect Solution

Refusing to give up on what she describes as “my vision” Pat started looking at other solutions.

“I just kept pushing” Pat laughs, “I kept researching and eventually I found Hope for Tomorrow and that’s when things really started to take shape.”

Pat contacted Hope for Tomorrow and set up a meeting and it was clear that this was a relationship that had real potential.

“I loved the idea of cancer care that came to patients. After meeting Hope for Tomorrow I started approaching NHS Service Managers straight away. Once they were on board, we started building our business case.”

Collaborating with Staff and patients

At this stage of the planning, Pat knew that staff and patient enthusiasm for the project would be vital:

“We engaged staff very early on. It wasn’t always easy for staff to visualise what nursing on a mobile cancer care unit might be like and there were naturally some reservations but everyone could see the benefit to the patients.

Patient engagement was pivotal and we gave out questionnaires and put up a stand within our day unit where patients could ask questions and explore the idea further.

Now everyone wants to work on ‘Linda’. We have to make sure the staff rota gives everyone in our team (currently 11 nurses) some time on board.”

The Hope for Tomorrow mobile cancer care unit, which is staffed by members of Airedale NHS Foundation Trust

Mobile cancer care – Clear benefits for all

One of the benefits of having a mobile cancer care unit that Pat wasn’t expecting is the impact it had on staff morale.

“Our staff retention is the best in the region and it’s a massive plus when we’re recruiting. Nurses stay with the trust long-term, even our agency nurses don’t want to leave!

It’s a busy environment, making sure you’re in the right place at the right time is crucial, as is sticking to appointment times. But the staff have so much fun. Getting out into the community and really being able to focus on the patients is a big benefit. There aren’t the distractions you’d find in a day unit and that means two staff can deliver more treatments on ‘Linda’ than they can in the hospital setting.”

The benefits to the patients are also clear to Pat;

“I planned the locations that ‘Linda’ visits carefully. I made sure that ‘Linda’ parks up somewhere where people can access other services in the community. Patients can do their shopping, meet up with family and friends and attend other appointments. It means treatment fits into their everyday lives, rather than having to make their lives fit around treatment. It reduces the fatigue associated with chemotherapy, where travelling long distances can add significantly to a patient’s fatigue.”

Mobile Cancer care in a healthcare crisis

During the Covid-19 pandemic Hope for Tomorrow also gave Airedale NHS Foundation Trust access to a second mobile cancer care unit. This meant that the trust were able to divert the majority of cancer treatments away from the day unit. Pat explains:

“Throughout Covid we were determined to continue to deliver patients’ treatment and not interrupt the unit’s schedule. ‘Linda’ still went out five days a week and the second unit operated from the hospital site. The mobile units were a blessing to cancer services at Airedale Hospital. More importantly, patients felt safe having their treatments on board.”

The way forward for cancer care

Pat describes the day the mobile cancer care unit arrived as “one of the best days in my whole career”.

“I have to say, I cried when I saw the unit drive into the hospital grounds!  I was completely overwhelmed because I knew how important this unit would be for our patients. Lots of staff came to meet ‘Linda’ on that day and for weeks after.”

I started using ‘Linda’ straight away and to begin with I went everywhere with her, wherever ‘Linda’ was, I was there too.”

Now the mobile cancer care unit is so busy, Pat oversees its use and the team that work on board. Pat works closely with Hope for Tomorrow to make sure the unit meets its full potential.

“It’s the most amazing piece of equipment. Hope for Tomorrow are a pretty special team. They listen and they care. What they are doing is amazing.

I couldn’t have achieved this without the support of some amazing colleagues and continued support from the hard working and dedicated drivers and chemotherapy nurses.

Mobile Cancer Care Units are definitely the way forward to help patients receive treatment safely whilst living their lives through this very challenging and life changing illness.”

How you can help

Each mobile cancer care unit has the potential to treat up to 20 patients every day. It costs £198 per day to keep one unit on the road and supporting patients in their community. With no government funding, Hope for Tomorrow rely entirely on donations and fundraising to keep a fleet of mobile cancer care units operational. Find out how you can support us here

Pat with 'Linda'