In it together at a time of need

Claire Smith, chief executive officer of HCA Healthcare UK Joint Ventures, describes how cancer care has continued during the coronavirus pandemic and stresses the importance of seeking help if you need it


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On March 21, the NHS announced an unprecedented deal with the independent sector, taking over capacity to ensure that vital care could continue for those patients who needed it most. For HCA Healthcare UK that meant making available more than 800 beds, 1,600 employed nurses, healthcare professionals and theatre practitioners, 77 intensive therapy unit (ITU) beds, 33 high dependency unit (HDU) beds and 38 theatres.

As a long-time partner of individual NHS trusts, HCA Healthcare UK has been privileged to work more closely with NHS England during the pandemic, to make a significant contribution at a time of national crisis.

When the UK went into lockdown, our only focus was supporting the national effort to ensure we were able to continue care for patients with time-critical healthcare needs. This included NHS, private medically insured and self-pay patients, who were all triaged strictly according to clinical need via NHS hubs.

We were also able to support NHS trusts with additional equipment needs, as well as through the expertise of our teams, some of whom were seconded to support NHS services. It was truly inspiring to see the healthcare sector come together and deliver this level of unprecedented care.

An urgent focus for us was ensuring cancer patients could continue to receive the care they needed.

At HCA Healthcare UK we took immediate action. Putting additional safety measures into place meant we could use our existing infrastructure to provide the right environment for even the most complex cancer care to continue safely. These measures have now become part of our daily practice, ensuring that since the start of the pandemic, we have managed to both continue care while keeping our hospitals COVID-safe spaces.

At HCA Healthcare UK we took immediate action, putting additional safety measures into place meant that we could use our existing infrastructure to provide the right environment, for even the most complex cancer care to continue safely

As well as additional safety measures within our hospitals, we have taken steps to reduce in-hospital interactions. This has meant adapting treatment plans without compromising on quality of care. For example, some of our most vulnerable blood cancer patients have been treated in the community through oral drug therapies in line with extended NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence) guidance, while our holistic services, such as patient support groups and vital physical therapy, have been provided remotely.

Thinking differently about how patients access our services has been key to continuing care. Virtual consultations either by video or telephone are no longer confined to GP practices. These consultations are enabling us to limit face-to-face interactions while still providing a route into diagnosis and onward care, which when it comes to cancer can be lifesaving in many cases.

Take 32-year-old patient Robert as an example of how effective this has been. Concerned about a lump, he was seen virtually by a consultant and within three days of his diagnosis, he was having surgery at London Bridge Hospital to remove a cancerous tumour.

We have also seen a shift in how we plan patient care. Our expert consultants and clinical teams have embraced virtual multidisciplinary team meetings, which means we can maintain truly personalised cancer care for each patient.

It is thanks to all these measures that we have cared for patients safely throughout the pandemic and now, as we return our focus to delivering wholly private care, how this care will continue even as we face a second peak.

Though we are seeing more and more patients, we know many people are still not coming forward with symptoms. A recent NHS survey that suggested one in ten people would not contact their GP even if they had a lump is particularly worrying. We know early diagnosis can make all the difference to treating cancer successfully, so we need patients to know we are open, we are safe and we want you to seek care if you have a concern. Suspected cancer symptoms really do have to be investigated, it could make all the difference to your diagnosis and long-term treatment outcome.

Cancer is still here and we will continue to be here to care for our patients safely.

For more information please visit www.hcahealthcare.co.uk/cancercare