Why was Cancer Care Map originally launched?
The original idea for Cancer Care Map came from broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby, Chair of The Richard Dimbleby Cancer Fund. Our work at the time was focussed predominantly on the Dimbleby Cancer Care services at Guy’s Cancer Centre, but we were always asked by people how they could find out about what support services were available near them. We commissioned some research to look into this with Guy’s and St Thomas’, and also map services in the wider local area. What we found was that there was no comprehensive central place to go to find out about cancer care in the UK. There are directories of support services for specific tumour groups or run by other charities to signpost their own services, but we couldn’t find anything that showed you everything that was available to you solely focussed on cancer support. And if you just went to Google it was hard to know where to start or if the information you came across was up to date or was giving safe, trusted advice. So that’s where Cancer Care Map came from: we wanted to create a comprehensive, free to access, trusted directory of cancer care services in the UK – not just the well-known information centres like Maggie’s and Macmillan, both of whom we now work closely with, but all the amazing community and smaller charity led organisations operating all around the country, providing care and support not just to those diagnosed with cancer but the families and carers supporting them. We carried out a series of workshops with patients, carers and GPs to find out what they wanted. We launched the pilot site in 2018 and then went live with the full site two years ago on #WorldCancerDay 2019.
Has cancer care in the UK changed in this time?
The biggest impact on cancer care and the cancer community has of course been COVID-19 - not only the virus itself but the knock-on effects of isolation and delayed cancer treatments. When the first lockdown happened in March 2020, many cancer support centres had to close their doors. That meant all that face-to-face support that is so important to people living with cancer suddenly stopped. People who were going through treatment had to shield and isolate. To many people going through treatment or living with cancer, the information centres and counselling sessions and support groups are their lifelines. Cancer didn’t go away, and all those feelings of anxiety and isolation were only heightened by the pandemic. So, organisations very quickly adapted what they were doing. All the many helplines and online support services already out there really came into their own, and other services moved their support to reach people virtually through phone calls, Zoom and video calls, chatrooms and even virtual exercise and group classes. It’s meant that many cancer care organisations can now connect with people further afield than their local area. Organisations have worked incredibly hard to keep services running, opening centres for face-to-face support when they could to those most in need, and ensuring that those isolating at home still felt connected. And people have really embraced online and virtual support like never before. Social media often gets bad press, but there are some wonderful online communities out there helping people through really difficult times. Cancer Care Map has been able to bring all this information together to connect people with the kind of support they may not have even realised it out there.