As soon as she started working on the urology outpatient department at the Royal Wolverhampton NHS Trust, Jenny Chatfield knew her role as a cancer care navigator was right for her. The knowledge she’d developed over 25 years of working in the NHS, including 14 years working with urology cancer patients, went hand in hand with her new position.
Working in partnership with clinical nurse specialists and specialist consultants, Jenny acts as an intermediary for patients and provides a high level of support to all urology cancer patients. She works in partnership with a clinical nurse specialist to undertake remote holistic needs assessments (HNAs) and makes relevant onward referrals where required. She also supports new cancer care navigators within the trust.
The long wait
Jenny contacts patients within two weeks of their diagnosis to offer immediate support.
“Most of the time, patient anxiety stems from the waiting. Waiting for appointments, waiting for results – and not knowing what will happen next,” she says.
By bridging the gap between waiting times, she makes sure patients don’t feel forgotten. As a result, her role also assists the wider team in supporting patients and their families.
“It’s an area of support that many patients weren’t getting previously. Working with Macmillan Cancer Support allowed my role to be put into place to support clinical nurse specialists and provide another level of care for our patients.”
I’m not reading from a script, it’s heartfelt
Jenny provides practical advice by signposting patients to specific resources related to their diagnosis and for support where their cancer diagnosis may affect their day to day lives. She also helps to connect them with cancer support groups.
And all this is communicated with compassion.
“Patients mostly want practical information, not sympathy. I support them in an emotional and practical way, which can have a positive impact on their care and their life outside hospital,“ Jenny explains.
“I speak from personal experience, having had family members who have been diagnosed with cancer. I’m not reading from a script, it’s heartfelt, and I think the patients appreciate that.”
Jenny often goes beyond expectations for her patients, especially if they have additional needs that she can help with.
“I can make referrals to our welfare rights team too,” she says. “This ensures patients get relevant support and welfare advice, including the benefits they’re entitled to.”
Adapting to change
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact on cancer services up and down the UK, but Jenny makes sure that her patients are always kept informed.
“A lot of patients don’t know what’s happening with their care, due to all kinds of delays. I listen to their concerns and tell them to the best of my ability what they can expect,” Jenny explains.
For a period, all Jenny’s contact with patients moved online, including holistic needs assessments. She says there were some advantages to this.
“It saved a lot of people from coming back into the hospital, so they avoided the trip and the anxiety that can cause.
“I could ring patients at a time that suited them, and they could choose if they wanted their family members present. Moving online can give patients more input into their care.”
But not everything was ideal.
When they get that call from me it can make them feel a little bit more reassured
“Before the pandemic we’d never have to break bad news virtually or over the phone, but then the clinicians had little choice,” says Jenny.
“Sometimes patients were prepared for the news and had their friends or family with them for the call. But not everyone can be in that situation. It’s important to think about other challenges too. For example, people with hearing impairments or English not being a first language. We had to be prepared to find solutions.”
Jenny has to protect her own wellbeing too.
“These conversations can be emotional and involve talking about upsetting developments in patients’ care, so I make sure I schedule no more than four of these calls a day,” she says.
Despite the challenges, Jenny says her work is hugely rewarding.
“When I ring patients, most of them are grateful to have someone check in on them. Some think that when they leave the hospital, everyone has moved on to the next patient. When they get that personal call from me it can make them feel a little bit more reassured.
“I might be talking to someone who’s going through one of the worst experiences of their life. Being able to offer support at this time is important.”