Wednesday 3rd April 2013
Sadie Smith on the Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre’s award-winning hair loss support service.
Hair loss support is a vital part of quality chemotherapy care. The centre, which is based at St James’s University Hospital in Leeds, has provided a hair loss support service since 2001. The team has developed this service over the past decade and recently won the ‘Improving the quality of life for people living with cancer’ category at the 2012 Quality in Care (QiC) Excellence in Oncology Award for its efforts.
The service started with one support worker, working 15 hours a week, and now has two support workers providing 42 hours a week of hair loss support.
Julie Carrick and Marie Nebard, Macmillan Hair Loss Support Workers, are qualified wig fitters and hairdressers, with many years’ experience supporting people coping with hair loss due to cancer treatments.
In 2011, the service ran 1,254 appointments, with a further 503 people getting support over the phone.
The team sought to improve the service through a variety of initiatives, from improving the equity of hair loss support, to better access to, and different models of, service provision.
People from black and minority ethnic (BME) communities were not accessing the service, believing the wigs were not for them. Macmillan Project Officer, Tom Mansell, identified that BME service users were unhappy that the wig catalogues only featured white female models.
Tom led a focus group at the Black Health Initiative in Leeds, where the women were pleasantly surprised with the range of wigs available. It was acknowledged that the wig catalogue was not suitable and some of the women volunteered to model for a bespoke catalogue.
The team worked closely with the wig supplier to improve the range of wigs available. The supplier also agreed to make a bespoke electronic catalogue, which included photos taken with a diverse range of models alongside the current model shots they had. Cultural training was arranged with a wig consultant, and Julie and Marie attended training about the cultural differences in African-Caribbean hair.
One woman interviewed for the local newspaper said, ‘The service is brilliant. They had a really good supply of wigs. They also had a lot of knowledge about African-Caribbean hair and wigs.’
Julie and Marie also visit patients on the wards, at day-case units and in waiting areas, which doesn’t allow much privacy for wig fitting. An unused room in the cancer centre was secured and furnished as a hair salon, and has been in use since July 2012.
The National Cancer Action Team asked the team to be a pilot site for a patient-led initiative called Linda’s Great Lengths workshop. This involved running relaxed, informal workshops where people, their friends and families could learn about hair loss, wig fitting and hair re-growth. Trained volunteers gave demonstrations on alternative headwear, while beauticians offered advice on eyebrow pencilling and eyelash enhancing. Following the success of the pilots, the workshops have been adopted as a model to be continued in the future.
Sadie Smith, Macmillan Information & Support Manager, Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds.