On September 18th, it was my very great pleasure to attend the final online session of the PENNA awards, together with my son.  The Fiona Littledale Award, currently in its second year, is given to those involved in oncology care who demonstrate outstanding commitment to continuing education and innovation in their particular field.  The Haematology Nursing Team at the Royal Chesterfield Hospital, led by Tracey Small, are worthy and enthusiastic winners for 2019.

When I spoke to Tracey, I was met with a blend of common sense, compassion and innovation which has driven the team to this point.  The key skill though, which surfaced again and again in our conversation, was a flexibility to meet new needs.

Tracey explained that the Haematology Support Group started small, with a few patients at a critical stage who wanted to get a better understanding of their condition.  Whilst this was meeting a need – it soon revealed another one.  People with blood cancers can get very sick very quickly – and so the team felt that it would be better to provide support further back down the line.  Out of this a programme of education was born, to which patients and carers were warmly invited.  Experts of every kind came to share their insight, on everything from transfusions and chemotherapy to the psychological impact of the cancer.  Whilst this programme was well received by those who attended, it could not meet the needs of some.

Tracey and the team realised that for some people a support group, meeting in a physical space together, simply was not appropriate.  Some were too shy or too vulnerable to attend.  For others, the logistics of getting to such a meeting, alongside their other appointments, were simply too great.  It was time for another flexible adaptation, and the Buddy Scheme was born.  Tracey and the team are now able to match new patients with others who have been through the treatment ahead of them if they would find it helpful.  Their allocated Buddy can stay in regular contact with them, providing reassurance, help and guidance.  All new patients get a leaflet about the Buddy Scheme in their diagnosis pack, and many are taking up the offer.

Within the restrictions of the current pandemic, the Buddy Scheme is perfect.  The support which it provides can be provided remotely by phone, email, or even card and letter.  A scheme born in the hospital is now finding its way out into homes and lives in a way entirely unaffected by physical restrictions.  It is an idea which has found its perfect time.  That said, the team are already looking to see if there are other, new ways in which they can offer support…

Just one week after the award was made, the team were proudly sporting their Fiona Fund badges on their lanyards.  One week after that, a new laptop arrived for their training programme, funded by the Award.  This means that the team can continue their professional development online even when they cannot travel into the hospital.  ‘It has been a game-changer for us’, said Tracey.

I suspect that the Haematology Nursing Team have been game-changers for many, many people and I could not be more delighted to have the Fiona Littledale Award associated with them.

Richard Littledale, November 2020