A charity service has helped over 1000 people in Dundee cope with cancer, despite Covid-19 forcing it to stop face to face support.

The Dundee Macmillan Improving the Cancer Journey service is a joint venture between Macmillan Cancer Support and Dundee Health and Social Care Partnership.

The service offers everyone diagnosed with cancer in the city an assessment of all their support needs, from counselling and benefits advice, to practical help at home.

Since launching in 2017 it has helped 1000 people with cancer navigate the complex cancer support system, and has continued to do so despite the challenges that the Covid-19 pandemic has presented.

Ken Lynn, Health and Social Care Spokesperson for Dundee City Council, said: “During the current coronavirus pandemic, the Improving the Cancer Journey service is continuing to support people affected by cancer in Dundee. “It is carrying out virtual appointments and helps people in lots of ways, such as helping to secure hundreds of thousands of pounds in benefits. We know that financial matters are a huge worry for people after a cancer diagnosis. But that’s just one aspect of the seamless and personal support service that Macmillan ICJ offers.

“I would encourage anyone who is impacted by cancer in Dundee to get in touch with the Macmillan ICJ, they are still there to here you during this difficult time.”

Bill McGregor was diagnosed with cancer in January 2019 and referred to the Dundee Improving the Cancer Journey service by a Macmillan nurse. The service continues to support him today, having referred him to a number of local support providers.

Bill said: “The support I have received from Macmillan has been out of this world. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, it’s life changing. Your head can go to some very dark places. I had to drop out of so many things I loved doing, like my work as a lollipop man which I loved.

“I went from being really down and not well to feeling so much better. Macmillan linked me up with a psychologist because I really struggle with my thoughts sometimes, especially at night. They also referred me to Maggie’s which was a very positive part of my week before it had to close due to Covid. From day one, Macmillan have been there for me. ‘I’m only a phone call away, day or night’ – that’s what Macmillan always say to me. That’s what you need.”

Since lockdown, much of Bill’s engagement with the outside world has had to stop. But Bill says his saving grace has been his allotment where he grows flowers and vegetables which he donates to Haddington Church and people in the community.

Bill said “I’m lucky I’ve got my allotment because it’s my daily exercise and gives me something to focus on. But I do miss my grandchildren, they stay at a 2-metre distance when they visit – even the youngest who’s only four. I want to go cuddle them so much. It’s hard for everyone.”

Every newly diagnosed cancer patient in Dundee is sent a letter from the service offering support. Patients are also referred to the service by health and social care staff.

The service assesses people’s needs with a tool called a Holistic Needs Assessment – a checklist which allows patients or carers to identify areas where they need support.

Through dedicated one-to-one conversations, the workers help patients access a wide range of assistance, from benefits advice and emotional support to help at home or with other practical needs.

With the pandemic bringing restrictions to face-to-face meetings, the service adapted the way it worked to function as a virtual service. Support workers now conduct all one-to-one discussions with patients over the phone or via a video consulting service which enables people to have health and social care appointments from home or wherever is convenient.

Macmillan's Head of Services in Scotland, Janice Preston, said: “Cancer has a huge impact on every aspect of people's lives, and right now it’s tougher than ever with so much uncertainty.

“We often hear from patients that they don't know where to turn for help, which is why Macmillan invests services like these to make sure everyone in Dundee with cancer has someone to call on for help, no matter what they need.

“We are delighted to see the impact it is having so far and hope more people locally will get in touch with the team to get the much-needed support they deserve.”

Since the service was launched in 2017, feedback from service users has been positive, with many people living with cancer confirming that they really value the support that’s been offered. For many, the practical and personal support they are receiving from the service and the access they have with a named professional worker had made a huge difference to their lives.

Anyone currently living with cancer or caring for someone with cancer can access the service by simply calling the team to arrange an appointment.

To find out more about the Improving the Cancer Journey service call 01382 433340 or email improving.cancerjourney@dundeecity.gov.uk