Looking after our mental health is more important than ever, and your mental wellbeing during cancer care is paramount. For this year’s #WorldMentalHealthDay, the celebrated theme is “Mental Health for All”.
We spoke to the team at the Macmillan Cancer Psychological Support (CaPS) based at St George’s Hospital in London about the services they offer those living with cancer for their mental health.
Tell us about your organisation?
Our Macmillan Cancer Psychological Support (CaPS) Service based at St George’s University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust launched back in 2016, initially as a pilot funded by Macmillan to help get our service up and running. We have grown into a busy, innovative, award-winning and highly-regarded clinical service driving developments locally, nationally and at international forums. Despite the recognition, quality patient care for those affected by cancer at St George’s and in the surrounding locality remains at the heart of what we do.
What services do you offer people living with cancer?
Our ‘bread and butter’ is the provision of evidence-based clinical interventions, information and support addressing the psychological impact of cancer care as part of routine cancer care throughout the cancer pathway. We also work closely with our cancer colleagues in providing training, supervision and consultation to cancer health professionals to ensure that the whole team can provide good psychologically-informed care to those affected by cancer. We feed into approaches across the cancer pathway around personalised care, supporting prehabilitation initiatives and patient diagnosis, addressing psychological needs throughout and following treatment, and supporting palliative and end of life care. We also work closely with primary care colleagues and those in mental health services and the third sector to support the psychological rehabilitation of patients in the community.
Do you have a target demographic who use your services?
Our multidisciplinary clinical service is available to adults on an outpatient basis and on our hospital wards, as well as those involved in their care (e.g. carers, families). We provide one-to-one evidence-based interventions, as well as working with couples and families as appropriate. Importantly, we are there to support all patients, whether it be those whose cancer has exacerbated a pre-existing mental health issue, all the way to those who have never struggled psychologically until faced with the challenge of adjusting to cancer and its wide-ranging impact.
How are you funded?
We were initially funded by a Macmillan pilot, but in recognition of the value we add for patients, their loved ones and staff working in cancer care, our local commissioners picked up funding for our service on a substantive basis back in 2018.
What’s the most rewarding thing about the work you do?
Undoubtedly knowing we make a difference not only to our patients and their loved ones, but also to all of those working in cancer care. In a highly medicalised setting, this can sometimes be a struggle and psychological needs can sometimes slip down the agenda. Knowing that we can do our bit to ensure cancer care for our patients and their loved ones is truly holistic and works towards helping patients to adjust to the psychological and mental health challenges that cancer might cause or exacerbate in a patient’s life – this is the real reward for us.
What would you say to those who are considering getting in touch with you but are nervous or apprehensive?
Some people might have unhelpful or negative ideas in their minds about what seeing a psychological support entails, whether it be from people you know, what you see on TV or even your own previous experiences. I’ve heard people say that it’s weak or be concerned about being ‘locked up’ if they see us, and these assumptions often get in the way of patients getting the right support at the right time. In short, there is absolutely no shame in seeing someone from our team – our cash-strapped NHS wouldn’t be funding services like ours across the country unless there was a genuine need! Suffering in silence may sometimes seem like it’s the right thing to do, but more often than not, asking for help is the strongest and bravest thing you can do for yourself and those around you is the reach out for support if you need it. You’d ask for support for physical side effects, so why shouldn’t you be helped with the psychological side effects too? We have a range of options available and can discuss the right kind of support for you.
Do you have testimonials from people that have used your services?
As part of an external evaluation of our service, some of the themes picked out from the testimonials included identifying the role we play in helping patients to adjust to their cancer (“they helped me separate out physical illness from relationship problems and deal with them differently”), getting the right support at the right time (“I was at my most vulnerable and waiting lists with the GP were just too long – I don’t know where else I would have turned if CaPS wasn’t there”) and impacting patient quality of life (“every time I walked out of there I felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders”). Our colleagues have also described the impact we have for their patients (“CaPS is unique in having the MDT – they work so well together and it’s really unusual to have all the disciplines together in the same service – I know patients get the right kind of support”).
Who works for you?
Dr Sahil Suleman – Macmillan Consultant Clinical Psychologist & Team Lead
Dr Asanga Fernando – Macmillan Consultant Liaison Psychiatrist
Dr Jo Ashcroft – Macmillan Clinical Psychologist
Dr Catherine Bousfield – Macmillan Clinical Psychologist
Dr Jenna Love – Clinical Psychologist
Ben Gannon – Macmillan Cancer Counsellor
Anna Szymanska – Team Administrator
What are the values of your organisation?
Working with some of the most vulnerable patients going through cancer, the ultimate value that sits at our core is ensuring that we are patient-centred in all that we do. For me, a huge part of this is around reducing barriers to accessing our service, such as allowing patients to be able to refer themselves but also doing more to engage with groups who might not easily find their way to us. We have a long way to go to achieve a truly equitable service but this remains my top priority. We also abide by our wider NHS Trust values at St George’s around delivering outstanding care every time through being excellent, kind, responsible and respectful.
And finally, can you describe your organisation in 3 words?
Mental health matters!