How Macmillan navigators ease the journey for patients with cancer

Though we have very good cancer outcomes, many patients with cancer have reported feeling bewildered and even lost throughout their journey with our services. Patients told us they struggled to get information, to know who to contact with questions, and to manage their day-to-day lives while fighting cancer. That’s why in 2015, Macmillan and Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust launched a partnership to improve patient experience in the Trust’s cancer services. The cancer navigators programme offers a single point of contact for patients with cancer, and is just one of several improvements we’ve made in the last year. As the programme celebrates its first birthday, Macmillan cancer navigator Nawal Ahmed explains what she does every day and why her job is so rewarding.

I work as a Macmillan cancer navigator here at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust. I am one of the people at the end of the phone when people call the Macmillan cancer navigator service. In a nutshell, navigators are the first point of call at the Trust for people with cancer, their relatives and carers, and we support them throughout their whole cancer journey.

Whatever is bothering our patients, we are here to help solve it. I like that by offering a single phone number cancer patients can call for support, we can help improve the experience of our patients across our hospitals.

In the past, clinical nurse specialists were generally the first point of contact for patients with cancer. But the nurses are often in clinic giving people one-to-one support and cannot always answer calls immediately. Rather than getting an answerphone, people now get straight through to us and we can support and reassure them on the spot. A lot of calls are about appointments, so by managing these queries, we’re able to free up more time for each nurse to focus on delivering excellent care.

There are so many different professionals involved in treating someone who has cancer and navigating this network of professionals can be daunting. That’s why we’re here – we work really closely with the whole multidisciplinary team, helping to make the whole experience seamless for the patient.

We are here to help patients with general admin, like making, moving or managing appointments. If a patient has clinical symptoms, we can put them in contact with a specialist nurse who can help. When a patient needs emotional support, we’re here to talk. In addition, we can offer general support with anything that could make a patient’s life a little bit easier – we even helped one patient find a dog walker when treatment meant they couldn’t get out and about.

There can be a variety of issues that people find hard, but it’s often the day-to-day issues that trouble patients, like dealing with the financial impact of cancer, loss of appetite, hair loss or not being able to enjoy everyday activities like eating or spending time with friends. Patients also really need emotional support, so it helps them to know they can just pick up the phone and call us. If we cannot help them directly we can put them in touch with the right people to support them.

Often patients don’t realise how much they need to chat about what they are going through with someone who isn’t a family member. Sometimes they are angry when they call us – not necessarily about a particular issue, they may simply be angry about the situation they are in. They are struggling to deal with it. We are able to be a supportive, non-judgemental presence for patients who just need to talk honestly about their experience with cancer.

Being able to take the time to talk to our patients, understand what they are struggling with and helping to make their lives easier is incredibly rewarding. I am happy to help patients manage their appointments or speak to a nurse, but the lengthy chats with patients are the most satisfying part of my job. When a patient opens up to me and I can build that connection with them and give them some emotional support, that’s when I feel like I’m having a really great day.

Learn more about Macmillan navigators at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.