Older People Living with Cancer

Peer advocates supporting older people affected by cancer


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The transition from professional to volunteer which brings a wealth of expertise

The volunteers who have shared their stories in Time: Our Gift to You come from all walks of life but I felt it was significant that several were retired Health or Social Care Professionals.   I wanted to know more about what motivates them to train as an advocate so I asked Mike Goodman, a newly retired Clinical Nurse Specialist who joined Dorset Macmillan Advocacy last year, why he volunteers and what he feels former Health Professionals in particular can bring to the role. Kathleen Gillett, Coordinator, Dorset Macmillan Advocacy

‘I was interested in becoming an advocate because, despite being retired, I still have an interest in helping people live with and recover from a diagnosis of cancer. After many years as a health professional you do build up a wealth of expertise and numerous medical contacts which it seems a waste to suddenly abandon just because you retire. The transition from professional to volunteer is a tricky one and it can be rather easy to slip back into a formal or professional approach to a situation rather than acting and speaking as a lay person – or simply imagining being the patient. However empathetic professionals think they are, because they have been trained/educated and because they are busy they quickly slip into “professional” mode and forget just what it is like being a confused, slightly scared, often lonely recipient of health care services.

Mike Goodman

I am sure advocates can be effective whether they have been cancer patients themselves, or have been the carer of someone with cancer or have been health care professionals. All those experiences will enable you to be a help and support. They would all bring different skills and abilities to the many and varied problems that the cancer partner is grappling with. Probably the greatest skill lies with the Macmillan Senior Advocate or Volunteer Coordinator in choosing which advocate to link up with each new partner.

Health Care professionals do have the ability to understand how the wheels turn in a hospital department or what a GP really needs to know in order to change the experience for a patient who is in a crisis. They will understand that it is hard to get something done on a Friday afternoon when most departments in a hospital are winding down for the weekend or that a referral between teams will have to go through an MDT meeting before a decision is made. Explaining that there is no simple blood test or screening process for some cancers comes as a shock to some people in the community who are reading the tabloids and grasping at every tiny news item that has the word cancer in its headline.

Retired professionals can play an important role in advocacy but, at the end of the day, it is that human touch, that word of encouragement, that listening ear that every person affected by cancer needs and wants and that is a role that every advocate seeks to fulfil.’

Mike Goodman, retired CNS.

Our thanks to Mike for sharing his thoughts.

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GPs are under pressure not to refer cancer suspects to hospitals

Yesterday I re-tweeted about a letter to the Telegraph from Peter Mahaffey, a hospital specialist. He’s concerned about the report in the Telegraph that “half of GPs are too slow in spotting cancer”. Too many cancers are going undetected for too long so his response is really quite depressing. Read what he had to say below and see what you think:

SIR – You report (December 7) that “half of GPs are too slow in spotting cancer”. As a specialist who has been receiving referrals from family doctors for 20 years, I have not noticed a decline in GPs’ caring or clinical skills. What, however, is obvious to most consultants is the increasing pressure on GPs not to refer their patients to hospital.

This is the inevitable consequence of asking primary-care doctors to manage their own constrained budget allocations.

It is unacceptable for the Health Secretary to condemn a situation which leads directly from a fundamental change in NHS policy – implemented after his shadow government promised no more major NHS structural changes if elected.

In almost all other Western countries, secondary care institutions are symbols of pride with their own budgets, not completely dependent on funding from primary care.

Cancer care outcomes will decline further until GPs can make medical decisions on the merit of the case and there is a halt to the pillorying of hospitals as the cause of the NHS’s financial ills.

Peter Mahaffey FRCS
Cardington, Bedfordshire