Anthony Nolan saves the lives of three people with blood cancer or a blood disorder every single day. These patients, going through such an intensive treatment, need to be supported before, during and after transplant with expert care. Anthony Nolan clinical nurse specialists (CNSs) play a huge part in this and were first introduced to give more support to patients in 2014. Prior to that, the lack of this support was in stark contrast to the way patients are now cared for from diagnosis to stem-cell transplant and beyond.
Georgi Haynes, 28, was one of the first transplant patients to benefit from a CNS – though at the time she didn’t realise how fortunate she was. “I was 23 when I took ill, just six months from finishing my vet med studies,” she says. “The care I had from Anthony Nolan was wonderful, and when I had my transplant my CNS got involved immediately. I had no idea that this service was new and I just took it for granted as part of the standard level of care. She hasn’t got rid of me since!”
The CNS who provided that reassuring and steadfast care is Hayley Leonard, Anthony Nolan’s first CNS, who has now gone on to take the role of lead nurse, with a team of 15 recruited in the past six years, across the UK.
Georgi describes Hayley as being like a second mum. “I don’t know how I’d have got through this without her. She knew all the possible side effects inside out, and was a wealth of knowledge whenever I turned to her. The psychological support she gave me was invaluable and she was firm in all the right ways about exercise and food because it can be hard to motivate yourself.
“She got me involved in the British Transplant Games (an annual sporting event for transplant patients that has been running for 40 years) and reassured me at times that feeling this rubbish was normal but it would get better. She was there to speak to my parents when I was unwell and provided an added layer of care which played a huge part in my recovery. I’ll be forever grateful to Anthony Nolan for funding her post – her team does such amazing work.”
Clinical nurse specialists work across all areas of medical care; they differ from a normal NHS nurse in that they have specialist knowledge and expertise in a particular field, over and above standard nursing skills. Thanks to the generosity of supporters, the CNSs - funded by Anthony Nolan - have extensive knowledge on stem-cell transplant and have experience working with the teams through diagnosis, the search for donors, and transplant.
They are ideally placed to provide dedicated post-transplant care and support, which previously did not exist. The side effects after transplant can be debilitating and at times life-threatening, and the constant support of a CNS means patients have the reassurance of quickly knowing what is normal and what needs immediate attention or treatment – something they couldn’t get from a nurse without that specialist knowledge.
Research done by Anthony Nolan has shown that the lack of a dedicated CNS can have a detrimental impact on a patient’s quality of life and their ability to recover successfully. Some patients cope with mild side effects but others experience extremely challenging symptoms and need specialised support.
Over 50 per cent of stem cell transplant patients have a diagnosable mental health condition compared with cancer patients in general, where the figure is 30 per cent.
So, while twelve members of the team are CNSs, the other three are clinical psychologists, who see only transplant patients. Prior to the arrival of these clinical psychologists, many patients struggled to be seen quickly – as hospital psychological care can be thinly spread. The psychologists will now see a patient as part of their care ahead of transplant, which establishes a relationship that can be swiftly re-established post-transplant. Transplant patients needing mental-health support are seen by the clinical psychologists as soon as they need them, ensuring the right care and attention is put in place immediately rather than having to face a lengthy waiting list.
Similar relationships are built up with the CNSs, who work closely with the transplant teams to help provide holistic support. The funding for these posts is only made possible thanks to Anthony Nolan’s financial supporters, and the support covers all the areas where patients urgently need help.
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