- Despite disruption caused by Covid-19, the vast majority of cancer treatment has continued at Barts Health NHS Trust.
- Temperature checks, masks and regular testing have helped to stop the spread of the virus.
- More than 3,000 people received cancer treatment at the height of the outbreak, with the risk of infection kept low.
A ‘triple check’ is among a range of measures helping to reduce the threat of Covid-19 at Barts Cancer Centre.
Patients who need to visit hospital for treatment receive a phone call at home to ask if they have symptoms. They are then screened for the virus as they arrive at the hospital and tested for COVID if they have symptoms.
Patients also have their temperature checked at the entrance to the treatment unit and testing of asymptomatic patients takes place on the wards.
It has meant potentially lifesaving cancer treatment has continued for more than 3,000 people.
Some cancer patients are at increased risk from coronavirus because their immune systems are weakened by treatments such as chemotherapy and radiotherapy.
Strict infection control measures were introduced at the start of the outbreak to prevent the spread of the virus among staff and patients.
Alongside regular screening for symptoms, the team at Barts Cancer Centre test employees and patients each week to monitor the prevalence of the virus in the hospital.
Positive results and traced and investigated.
All staff and patients must wear a face mask or covering, and changes have been made to clinical areas to enable social distancing. Visitor restrictions are also in place to reduce the number of people in the hospital.
Some face-to-face appointments have been switched to telephone and video consultations for patients who don’t need to be seen in person.
Cancer patients requiring surgery are asked to self-isolate for 14 days and must return a negative test before their procedure. Some operations have been carried out at dedicated ‘cancer hubs’ set up at hospitals in the independent sector.
Barts Cancer Centre is the second biggest centre of its kind in London and provides services to more than 1.5 million people from across east London, the south and east of England.
Around 2,000 patients are receiving treatment at the Centre at any one time, with 350 new patients starting treatment each month.
The majority of its services are provided at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in the City of London. It also offers cancer services at The Royal London, Newham and Whipps Cross hospitals.
Professor Tom Powles, Director of Barts Cancer Centre (pictured), said: “The team felt early on in the pandemic that if we could keep the infection risk low it would be safe for the majority of patients to start or continue their treatment.
“This meant looking at every part patient journey, from when they arrive to when they go home, and carefully assessing the risk for each individual tumour group.
“The data available from this period suggests that was the case, and we were able to give over 10,000 treatments to more than 3,000 patients with minimal risk’.
“Patients should feel reassured that it’s safe to use our services.”
The Government's “stay at home” message, which was crucial to control the spread of the virus, caused a great deal of anxiety for cancer patients needing treatment.
Natalie Woodward was awaiting surgery for bowel cancer at another London hospital when the pandemic hit. Her surgery was postponed and she began a course of chemotherapy at St Bartholomew’s.
“Stepping out of the house for the first time was a nerve-wracking experience. I took a cab because I didn’t want to get on public transport.
“You obviously have that worry that hospitals are full of people who are unwell, and that adds to your anxiety."
But, Natalie, who is originally from Devon, says her fears were put to one side as soon as she arrived at St Bartholomew’s.
“The measures that were in place – the questionnaires, the temperature checks and the masks – immediately put me at ease.
“Everything is done in such a structured way that you’re in and out really quickly.
The 38 year-old, who was advised to shield at the start of the outbreak, says other patients with serious conditions should attend hospital when they need to.
“It’s a worrying time but we have to be responsible for our own health.
“Leaving conditions without being treated is way more dangerous than getting things checked out.
“I felt safer in the hospital than anywhere else during the pandemic.”