New service helps to overcome isolation for people with cancer in London

Cancer patients at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust will benefit from a volunteer-led service called Imperial Companions funded by charity Macmillan Cancer Support to help overcome issues relating to isolation and improve patient experience.  

More than one in five (22 per cent) people living with cancer in London, an estimated 44,000, is suffering with loneliness as a result of their cancer according to Macmillan.

Imperial Companions is a befriending service for people affected by cancer and focuses on those who are isolated or have limited support networks. Trained companions link up with someone affected by cancer either as a one-off or more regularly for up to six months. They provide a ‘listening ear’ and can signpost to other services where necessary.

Suzi Howie, direct volunteering services manager at Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We know that receiving a cancer diagnosis can turn your world upside down. You are not only concerned about your body and treatment but also about how it will affect your life. Our aim is to make sure no one faces cancer alone and these projects at Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust will help guide you through a really difficult time.

“Since we started Imperial Companions, the Trust’s senior gynaecology oncology nurse Angela Hayward recognised a need for more specialist support so we have recently started a bespoke buddying service in the Trust’s Gynaecological Oncology Health and Wellness Clinic at the Trust’s Queen Charlotte’s and Chelsea Hospital. Our fantastic team of volunteers are trained and ready to help. If you feel you would benefit please get in touch.”

The clinic supports women who have been diagnosed with gynaecological malignancy from initial presentation, through treatment and with any survivorship issues. The clinic is run by a team of specialists who are able to give on the spot advice on issues ranging from housing and benefits to discussing psychosexual issues following treatment.

Senior gynaecology oncology nurse Angela Hayward said: “The companions offer support to our patients in the waiting room with coffee and a chat, this is useful as it breaks barriers to communication and helps patients engage or there can be more formal matching and on-going support. Since the introduction of this service, we have noticed the atmosphere lift and our patients have definitely benefited.”  

Shamini Markandu, one of the Imperial Companions in the clinic, said: “I wanted to volunteer after my mum was diagnosed with cervical cancer and sadly passed away in 2007. It’s good to be able to give something back and try to make facing cancer easier for people. We offer patients and their families and friends a cup of tea or coffee and the opportunity to chat. A lot of the time people don’t want to talk about cancer but other things. People are so appreciative of the time we spend with them.”

How to refer to Imperial Companions:
You can request a companion by contacting Suzi Howie, the direct volunteering services manager for London, on 07834 192209 or by emailing You can also speak to a member of staff at the Trust and ask them to refer you.