While COVID has created massive challenges for the clinically vulnerable, a Wandsworth cancer support team has vowed to do ‘whatever it takes’ to be there for local cancer patients, their carers and loved ones.

The Macmillan Information and Support Centre at St George’s Hospital in Tooting has pulled out all the stops to ensure they continue to support people with cancer, despite the many challenges posed by the pandemic.

Having originally had to close the Macmillan centre’s doors on the 23rd March 2020, the team leapt into action; coming up with a multitude of innovative ways to ensure South Londoners could still access vital cancer support.

Just some of the inventive services launched by the centre in response to Coronavirus:

A YouTube channel offering daily wellbeing sessions
Video call appointments for shielding patients
Webinar workshops covering everything from headscarf tying to coping with fatigue
Interactive information posters enabling patients to access Macmillan information resources via QR codes
A phone-based ‘buddy’ service manned by volunteers who’ve directly experienced cancer
Chemotherapy ‘Comfort Kits’ filled with practical items and thoughtful treats for patients undergoing chemo

St George’s patient Janet (53) was supported by the team during the COVID crisis:

“I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018, and needed a mastectomy, lymph node removal, months of chemotherapy, followed by radiotherapy. And now, I have years of endocrine therapy ahead of me to prevent my cancer recurring. In early 2020, I was just hoping to return to some sort of normality, after years of treatment and turmoil, when the effects of the coronavirus pandemic reached us.

“It was invaluable that Estelle and her team of volunteers, and other Macmillan staff, were able to react so quickly when that first lockdown was announced. They realised that patients had been reliant on activities to support them through cancer, and that isolation and shielding would be really tough. Macmillan at St George’s stepped up, reaching out to as many patients as they could.

“And the speed with which Estelle got the YouTube channel going, featuring so many familiar faces leading our classes, was truly impressive and a lifeline.

“Us patients have known for a long time just how amazing Estelle is. I have been so grateful for the support.”

Estelle Le Galliot, Macmillan Information & Support Centre Manager at St George’s explained:

“”The last 12 months have been the most challenging time in my career in cancer care. I had to step up and be more creative; constantly finding new ways to make sure our patients and carers were not deprived of our crucial support.

“The Centre closed for 3 months between March and June 2020 with only one member of staff remaining on-site to keep supporting patients and carers via telephone or email.

“To ensure we could still reach as many people as possible, we transformed all our usual workshops into ‘webinars’, so patients could continue to access vital information whilst shielding safely at home.

“We also started a video call service for self-isolating services users who couldn’t access the centre, but who needed advice.

“Our ‘CanChat’ telephone support line volunteers remained on standby at home throughout the pandemic, offering an empathic ear to patients wanting to talk to someone who had themselves experienced cancer.

“From interactive information posters, which helped patients access Macmillan information booklets via a QR code. To launching a YouTube channel featuring exercise and wellbeing content. Not to mention ‘Chemo Comfort Kits’ containing useful items that can bring relief to patients undergoing chemotherapy. We were constantly coming up with fresh ideas!

“We also had to make sure the Centre would be safe once it was possible to reopen again, so we made a number of adaptations. I’m determined that that no matter what happens next, the centre doors will always remain open, so patients will never have to be cut-off from our valuable support.

“It has also been a humbling privilege to support my cancer services colleagues who have gone above and beyond supporting their patients, carers and colleagues throughout the Trust. “It has been of time of solidarity when many of us cancer centre managers in hospitals, and communities in SW London and beyond, joined forces by regularly sharing news and good practice with a common goal that cancer patients will not feel isolated or miss out on the best our services can offer.”

The Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre at St George’s has now reopened and continues to offer practical, financial and emotional support to anyone impacted by cancer – either in-person, via phone, video call and email, or by accessing their resources online through the St George’s website: stgeorges.nhs.uk/service/cancer-services/macmillan-cancer-support

Anyone affected by cancer in South West London can contact the St George’s Macmillan Cancer Information and Support Centre team on 0208 725 2677 or email: cancer.information@stgeorges.nhs.uk; 8:30am to 4:30pm Monday to Friday.

People can also access Macmillan’s support 24/7 via their website: www.macmillan.org.uk or call the Macmillan Support Line 7 days a week, 8am to 8pm on: