A leading North East matron for children’s cancer services has said a new £5.5m centre would play a pivotal role in improving treatment.
Jenny Palmer, Matron for Children and Young People’s Cancer and Bone Marrow Transplant Services at Newcastle Hospitals’ Great North Children’s Hospital, has backed the Future Fund campaign to create a specialist children’s cancer research facility in the region.
The fund, a partnership between Newcastle University, the Great North Children’s Hospital and the North of England Children’s Cancer Research charity, aims to raise £5.5m to create the Newcastle University Centre for Childhood Cancer.
Jenny, who has responsibility for developing children’s cancer services and ensuring more than 100 nursing and specialist staff continue to perform at the cutting edge of medical advancements, is keen to build on the outstanding facilities, results and reputation Newcastle has achieved in treating the disease in the past 30 years.
By focusing the work of existing research teams into one state-of-the-art facility, she believes drug development, translational research and early phase clinical trials can be advanced and accelerated.
“Survival rates have dramatically improved in the past 30 years and the investment in specialist facilities and services offered to young people and their families has mirrored that improvement,” she said.
“The facilities here at the hospital are now absolutely amazing and are all aimed at making the experience of cancer treatment as comfortable as possible for the children and their parents. Our ultimate aim is for treatment times to be shorter, more effective and with fewer side effects and the Future Fund will play a pivotal role in achieving that goal.
“Newcastle has a strong track record in clinical trials and virtually every one of our children is already helping with work on the future of cancer treatments as they are involved with a research study with our research nurses and consultants. The Future Fund will build on that momentum,” she added.
Jenny was appointed to her role as Matron in 2011 and said she has seen significant advances in children’s cancer services even in this short period of time.
She said one of the main improvements has been the introduction of specialist nurses who are expert in specific areas and issues relating to teenage patients.
She said: “Some of the specialist nursing services are relatively new and are a wonderful addition to the team as they can offer our families expert advice and effective support on very specific areas. They get involved in so many aspects of life outside of the hospital, for example providing liaison with school, social workers and psychologists. Crucially, we now have a nurse that specialises in providing long-term follow-up services for children and young people who continue to be supported five years out of treatment.
“She helps with side effects of treatment such as fertility and endocrine issues and helps us to understand which treatments can lead to long-term problems.
“These aren’t just patients to us, they are young people trying to overcome all of the usual challenges associated with growing up but with the added complication of having a cancer diagnosis and being on a ward. We do everything we can to help make the experience as easy and as normal and homely as it can be.”
Care is given to patients ageing from newborn to 19, with a dedicated Teenage Cancer Unit providing specific services for older children. The unit includes a ‘penthouse’ facility where teenagers can socialise and learn new skills, complete with musical instruments, pool table, juke box and gaming area.
The multi-disciplinary team of children’s cancer experts specialises in everything from neurosciences and radiotherapy to pathology and surgery, with nine consultants dedicated to the department.
Jenny added: “The philosophy of all of the wards is to care for the whole family – not just the patient. Children and young people are actually incredibly resilient and tend to cope very differently to their parents so we ensure we take care of the whole family unit and develop very long-term and involved relationships.
“It obviously is an emotionally challenging job for our nurses but the rewards are phenomenal. Our staff feel they get to know the families they work with so well as they progress through our programme of care. It is unlike most other conditions we treat in the hospital as it requires such frequent follow-up even after treatment has finished so we stay in touch with our families long after they have left the ward.
“The most delightful thing for our staff is seeing their patients come to the end of their treatment and then go on to grow back into their normal lives, getting back into school, growing back their hair and picking back up with their friends. Advancement in cancer research and improved, more targeted treatments will mean a happy ending for even more of our patients.”
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