How live chat and social media has helped specialist nurses support men with prostate cancer through the pandemic

During COVID-19 Prostate Cancer UK nurses have adopted new ways of working

During the COVID-19 pandemic Prostate Cancer UK nurses have adopted new ways of working to support their patients

Man talking to specialist nurse via screen about prostate cancer
Picture: iStock

Prostate cancer is a growing issue in the UK, with the latest figures showing that its diagnoses have more than doubled over the past 20 years to become the most commonly diagnosed cancer overall.

Combined with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is clearly an unprecedented time for prostate cancer care. There have been big delays to diagnosis and treatments, as the NHS has focused its resources on addressing COVID-19 patients and aimed to protect other patients from the risk of contracting the virus.

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Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses have been providing support and information to people with prostate cancer and their families throughout, and our vision for the future has not changed. We want men to be diagnosed earlier and more accurately, and we want the best treatments for those with the disease.

Since the start of the lockdown in late March, the nature of our workload and focus have changed dramatically. We have had to quickly adapt to new ways of working, while keeping up with national changes and collaborating with other organisations and clinicians to make sure prostate cancer remains high on the agenda.

Phone, live chat, email and social media support to men becoming the norm

With the situation changing constantly, we have worked with our policy and influencing teams to build a clear picture of the situation on the ground and developed strategies to tackle issues as they arise.

Prostate Cancer UK has set up a dedicated COVID-19 website to provide men with up-to-date information on how their treatment could be affected. The charity has also been working to make sure that men on long-term hormone therapy can continue to get access to it via their GP, and successfully lobbied NHS England to get men access to safer alternatives to chemotherapy, such as enzalutamide, during the crisis.

We have always offered telephone, live chat, email and social media support to men, and this is now becoming the norm. Demand for live chats has increased since the lockdown and it is here to stay.

Our support groups, who previously engaged face-to-face, have also adapted to the virtual world, and sessions now take place over video conferencing, meaning specialist nurses can attend these groups virtually no matter where they take place in the UK.

Poor communication from clinicians is a big cause of anxiety

We have heard from men and their families about how this pandemic has affected their well-being, causing anxiety and uncertainty about the future. Most men with prostate cancer understand that COVID-19 poses a risk to themselves and their healthcare professionals, and realise the need for adjustments to their cancer treatment plans. Understandably, many are fearful about the long-term implications, their overall prognosis and their return to normal life.

Clearly these are not easy questions to answer, but we have found that one of the biggest causes of anxiety is poor communication from clinicians about the reasons for changes in care.

Anyone communicating with patients during this time should consider the psychological effect of any changes to their treatment. Patients should also have a central point of contact with their clinical team who they can speak to about any concerns.

It is crucial that as services begin to return to normal, men with prostate cancer are not forgotten about. This is particularly important for men with high-risk cancers whose treatments have been delayed, or whose cancer is at risk of returning. These men cannot afford to wait until the pandemic is over, and they need to know that their long-term health is being considered.

In the meantime, the nurses at Prostate Cancer UK will continue to provide support and information to men and their clinicians.

Find out more

Anyone with questions about prostate cancer can contact Prostate Cancer UK’s specialist nurses on 0800 074 8383

Lisa O'Sullivan Lisa O’Sullivan is a specialist nurse at Prostate Cancer UK

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