Recent studies and news reports into the impact of the pandemic upon patients with a cancer diagnosis have found it has caused delays in vital treatments, operations postponed and screening paused.
However, many cancer patients were also asked to self-isolate and shield in the early stages of the pandemic due to their lower immune system reducing the ability to fight infection and making them especially vulnerable to catching coronavirus. This has caused an added burden of loneliness and anxiety for many.
Professor Christopher Burton and Tristi Brownett from the University’s School of Allied and Public Health Professions, in partnership with Dr Tara Rampal and colleagues at the Medway NHS Foundation Trust, have appointed intern Anna-Mariya Lashkay to support the first stages of the Investigating Loneliness and Healthcare Outcomes (ILAHO) project.
ILAHO will develop evidence-based interventions to mitigate the risks of loneliness and social isolation. The project’s early work is to evaluate patient experiences, experience of loneliness and access to social networks, and to understand what the service users themselves think could make a difference.
"The impact of the pandemic will be felt by many people in Kent, not just those directly affected by the virus.
"We are very concerned about the impact on those with health conditions such as cancer, who may be particularly vulnerable.
"I am delighted that, in partnership with colleagues at Medway Maritime Hospital, we will be able to design new strategies to help reduce the risks of Covid-19."
Dr Tara Rampal, clinical lead for the project at the Medway NHS Foundation Trust, describes being inspired by patient narratives and regards it a moral imperative to address all determinants of health beyond just the physical condition.
“I am privileged to work on highlighting the impact of loneliness especially in these uncertain times on our cancer patient population and their support network. As clinicians, we have moved so far away into ‘medical management’ that we often forget to address the basic human needs. Hopefully our project will shine light on this and we can together start taking positive steps to address the loneliness crisis.”
Working with community health and wellbeing providers, including Cancer Alliance and MacMillan General Practitioners, the partners want to gain a picture of the current situation and to fully understand how the recent pandemic has affected cancer patients’ mental health and wellbeing.
In the longer-term the study aims to use this understanding to pioneer programmes of research, through established University and NHS partnerships, which will include the development of different methods of support to reduce the impact of loneliness on the health and wellbeing of cancer patients.
Project intern Anna-Mariya Lashkay has been creating vlogs to showcase the first steps of research by creating a review of current interventions. Watch below: