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Revolutionary backpack that allows cancer patients to live independently; Cancer patients will soon be able to have their treatment at home thanks to a new 'chemotherapy backpack'. Here, health correspondent Mark Smith finds out more about the groundbreaking piece of equipment...

Byline: Mark Smith

When cancer patients need chemotherapy they can spend hours, days or even weeks undergoing the treatment in hospital.

But this could soon be a thing of the past thanks to a new ambulatory chemotherapy service at the University Hospital of Wales in Cardiff. The innovative project will allow eligible patients with certain types of blood cancer to take their chemotherapy outside hospital grounds in a bag or backpack.

It means that rather than having to stay on a ward, the patients can remain in the comfort of their own home or even go to the shops while the drug fights the disease.

Bethan Ingram, Teenage Cancer Trust senior nurse, was the nurse lead for the team responsible for setting up the service and believes it will greatly reduce the emotional impact on people living with cancer.

"Having this treatment is hard wherever you choose to have it," she said.

"But it can make such a difference being in your own bed, eating when you want or making a cup of tea whenever you fancy it.

"That can all be very empowering for the patient and improve their wellbeing and quality of life.

"I think this has the potential to transform cancer care and how it is delivered."

According to latest figures, the number of people being diagnosed with blood cancers is rising in Wales and the rest of the UK.

As a result, this is putting an increased pressure on key hospital services, reducing the number of beds available and putting the NHS workforce under huge strain.

In recent years the Welsh Government and health boards have aimed to introduce new models of care which allow patients to remain in their own homes when suitable.

"Ultimately, any time a patient spends in hospital is too long," Bethan added.

"Other parts of the country, and indeed the world, have been looking at different models of delivering therapies which normalise the process for people.

"For us, the number-one priority is improving the experience for patients, and what better way to do that than to keep them at home?" The ambulatory service was launched two years ago, initially to help cancer patients who were undergoing autologous stem cell transplants.

This involves a patient's own healthy blood-forming stem cells being collected in advance - while they are in remission - and then returned to them at a later stage.

The transplants allow patients to have higher doses of chemotherapy, providing some with a better chance of a cure or long-term control of their disease.

It was found that these patients could have these infusion treatments carried out away from the hospital grounds at home under regular supervision.

And now, thanks to a PS163,000 funding injection by Macmillan Cancer Support, pharmacist Siobhan Smith has been brought into the team so that the chemotherapy aspect of treatment can be broadened and tailored to different types of the disease.

Siobhan said that in the near future it could become commonplace to see cancer patients walking around in public with their chemotherapy backpacks strapped to them.

"We need to ensure that the chemotherapy can be carried around outside the hospital safely and will still work as well as if given in hospital," said Siobhan, a Macmillan haematology ambulatory care pharmacist. "With support from hospital pharmacy clinical and technical services colleagues, and in collaboration with colleagues in Cardiff University School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, I have co-ordinated research studies to check that it remains safe and doesn't degrade over the time the patient has it in the backpack.

"From the time it goes on to the time it comes off, we have to ensure that it is not affected by temperature or any other conditions it is exposed to wherever the patient goes.

"Alongside this, we also make sure that patients are educated and supported in managing their medicines at home."

Ambulatory care nurse Gwawr Hughes manages the service on a day-to-day basis, liaising with staff, patients and their families to ensure it runs as smoothly as possible.

She said 30 patients have so far used the ambulatory service.

"As a whole, the feedback has been really positive," she said.

"Patients no longer have the restrictions they had as an inpatient in the hospital.

They can have a lie-in in the morning and use their own bathrooms - it's just simple things that can make a huge difference.

"But it's not for everyone. It's up to the patients at the end of the day. They will never be forced to do this.

"And their carers play a huge part in this too as it can be a bit daunting for them, but they are supported as much as the patients."

The haematological cancer service at UHW supports patients with different types of blood cancer including acute lymphoid leukaemia, acute myeloid leukaemia and non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.

These blood cancers combined make up 15% of all cancer cases in Wales.

Bethan said patients and their families are educated in how to use the equipment at home, but she stressed that NHS staff will be on hand 24 hours a day to offer specialist medical support.

She concluded that the service will allow people to carry on with their daily lives as much as they can.

"If you're told that you're going to be in hospital for up to four weeks, it's a very challenging thing to be faced with," added Bethan.

"So even if you can shorten that by a week or two weeks, or for some people the whole thing, it's really important.

"We feel very committed to sharing this across Wales so that other hospitals can help support people in this way."

ABOUT THE INNOVATIVE SERVICE Richard Pugh, right, head of services for Macmillan Cancer Support in Wales, said: "Cancer is not always life-threatening but it is lifechanging, and we hope this innovative service supports people with blood cancer to retain some normality during their chemotherapy.

"The ambulatory chemotherapy service means eligible people being treated for blood cancer can go home or stay nearby at night rather than needing to stay in isolation, while knowing they still have 24-7 specialist support available if needed.

"We're proud to be funding the Macmillan pharmacist at this brilliant service with money from our supporters and to be working in partnership with Cardiff and the Vale University Health Board."

CHEMOTHERAPY: THE FACTS Different drugs affect the cancer cells in different ways. When a combination of drugs is used, each drug is chosen for its different effects.

Most chemotherapy drugs are carried in the blood. This means they can reach cancer cells anywhere in the body.

But chemotherapy can be given in different ways. The way you have chemotherapy depends on: ? the type of cancer you have ? the chemotherapy drugs being used.

Chemotherapy drugs can also affect some of the healthy cells in your body.

These healthy cells can usually recover from damage caused by chemotherapy, but cancer cells cannot recover and they eventually die.

But it can make such a difference being in your own bed, eating when you want or making a cup of tea whenever you fancy it


<B Patients with blood cancers will soon be able to use a chemotherapy backpack and have their treatment at home

Traditional chemotherapy treatment

A chemotherapy backpack
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 24, 2019
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