Stories from Macmillan Allied Health Professionals at West Suffolk Hospital

Published: 08 April 2024
Over the last two years the West Suffolk Hospital (WSH) has recruited a Macmillan funded Allied Health Professionals (AHP) team that includes Speech and Language Therapy (SALT), Physiotherapy and Dietetics. Read about these how these roles play a fundamental part throughout a cancer experience. 
Four Allied Health Professionals are standing next to each other outside a hospital. Helen Scharf is on the left, next to her is Lauren Margery. Next to Lauren is Angela Jiggins and to the right is Tanya Bowers. They are all wearing NHS uniforms.
From left to right: Helen Scharf, Lauren Margery, Angela Jiggins and Tanya Bowers.

The recruitment of AHPs at the Trust enables them to provide a holistic approach to oncology patients at any stage of their cancer journey. The Trust is also in the process of recruiting an occupational therapist too.

The AHPs are involved in many new projects, such as a prehabilitation service for lung cancer patients  and a new cancer frailty service. The AHPs plan to offer training to the Macmillan inpatient ward and Macmillan nursing colleagues. They also plan to recruit a therapy assistant across all disciplines to help carry out therapy with patients.

The Macmillan AHP team work holistically and collaboratively to improve patient care. 

An example of how the Macmillan AHPs work together

A patient developed dermatomyositis after immunotherapy treatment which caused him to require a hospital admission. The dermatomyositis caused severe muscle weakness affecting both his swallowing and mobility. The SALT team carried out a videofluoroscopy (an x-ray of his swallow) to assess his swallowing muscles.

Before the x-ray, the physiotherapist reviewed the patient to ensure that he would be able to sit down for long enough to have the x-ray. They also advised which chair would be most appropriate for him to sit in for the x-ray. Because of his swallowing difficulties, the dietitian also helped provide an alternative feeding regime. The aim is to improve his nutritional intake which will in-turn enable him to better engage with physiotherapy.

Speech and Language Therapists Lauren Margery and Helen Scharf

"Supporting people to regain everyday skills that we often take for granted, such as speaking with friends over the telephone or having a cup of tea, is a real privilege."

Lauren and Helen are Speech and Language Therapists currently working with people who are experiencing difficulties with their communication, swallowing, jaw opening or secretion management. These problems may have occurred secondary to their cancer or cancer treatments. They can help people at any stage of their cancer journey, including those in end of life care.

Lauren previously worked as a primary school teacher. However after retraining as a Speech and Language Therapist, she decided that she wanted to work with adults. Helen always knew that she wanted to be a Speech and Language Therapist and has worked with people who have had head and neck cancer for 16 years. 

Lauren said: "People are often surprised that Speech and Language Therapists support people with swallowing difficulties. But this is our favourite part of the job! We are able to x-ray a swallow and carry out a nasendoscopy to look at how the swallowing muscles are working."

Helen said: "We can also check that food and drink is going into the oesophagus. Based on this, we can provide people with swallowing exercises such as rehab for the throat muscles, to help them improve their swallow function."

Physiotherapist Angela Jiggins

"Due to Macmillan's input, I feel the people within our catchment area are getting a much more focused physiotherapy cancer support service."

Angela is a Macmillan physiotherapist and has been in her post for over one year.

Angela said: "I worked in palliative care in a hospice for 10 years before my current role and have really enjoyed the switch to more acute oncology. I am fortunate that I continue to see palliative cases across the hospital where there is a complex need.

"My role is Macmillan funded and has given me time to help set up new services. I have a large out-patient caseload supporting all cancer types. I attended a funded prehab course which led me to input how our new prehab service could start and run more smoothly.

"I have also recently taken part in a funded older person cancer frailty study day. This enhanced my knowledge and skills so I could have a better impact within our new cancer frailty service.

"Macmillan have been very supportive of my role and continued education. Due to their input, I feel the people within our catchment area are getting a much more focused physiotherapy cancer support service."

Dietitian Tanya Bowers

"Being a Macmillan professional allows me to embrace the holistic approach that dietetic care requires."

Tanya Bowers joined WSH Macmillan AHP team at the beginning of 2023. She started her career at WSH over 25 years ago.

Tanya said: "I have practiced as a Dietitian in various specialist areas within acute dietetics and gained experience in critical care, gastroenterology, surgery, as well as oncology. These have all contributed to the care I am able to offer our patients.

"My role is quite unique in oncology dietetics. I cover acute patients on the Macmillan Unit, and also patients requiring complex nutrition support on the surgical and medical wards. This includes people requiring pancreatic enzymes to aid digestion, IV nutrition and nasojejunal and nasogastric feeding. I am involved with multi-disciplinary teams (MDTs) which make decisions about feeding and how best to support patients.

"I lead a small team and I am part of a small dietetic oncology team. This includes a dietetic assistant and part-time community oncology dietitian, which together deliver dietetic care across acute and community care throughout the patient’s journey.

"The best part of the job is working with the medical team to help people come up with a solution that supports them through treatment. I offer expertise in refeeding syndrome, vitamin deficiency, and high output stoma.

"Being a Macmillan professional allows me to embrace the holistic approach that dietetic care requires. Food and nutrition are fundamental parts of our lives. I work with patients, their families, friends and medical teams to optimise their nutritional wellbeing and quality of life. As an AHP I work with a wide range of MDT members to advocate for the patient. This includes AHP therapists, the oncology and haematology teams, frailty team, nutrition support team, palliative care team and upper gastrointestinal (GI) team."