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27 Apr 2021

“Covid-friendly” cancer care at home

Seamus Daley-Dee

At the end of last month, the NHS announced thousands of people with cancer can benefit from ‘Covid-friendly’ treatments from home. We have a look at what the scheme intends to do and how it has benefitted cancer patients since the start of the pandemic.   
Since April last year around 8,000 people have benefitted from treatment ‘swaps’ helping to maintain cancer treatment in the face of coronavirus. Since the start of the pandemic, more than 250,000 people started treatment for cancer and the NHS has adopted an approach that they say is effective and less risky. These ‘swaps’ started at the beginning of the pandemic, and now patient access to these drugs will now be extended until the summer, with the potential to extend until the end of March next year.  
So what is included in the ‘swaps?’ There are more than 30 different drugs that are available to treat patients, offering benefits such as fewer hospital visits or a reduced impact on their immune system. Targeted hormone therapies such as enzalutamide for prostate cancer and broadened use of lenalidomide in the treatment of myeloma – bone marrow cancer – are among the options available for clinicians to choose from. For ovarian cancer, some patients can receive trametinib as a tablet alternative to chemotherapy and thus, reduce the impact on their immune systems. 

This method of ‘Covid friendly’ treatments is part of The NHS Long Term Plan which is committed to using cutting edge treatment and technology to save and improve patients’ lives. The ‘Covid-friendly’ cancer treatments are among a string of NHS innovations that have helped patients to access treatment safely throughout the pandemic. 

During the first wave of the pandemic, the NHS made up to 10,000 chemo deliveries to patients’ doorsteps, introduced Covid-secure surgery hubs and fast tracked stereotactic ablative radiotherapy (SABR) which requires five doses rather than up to 30 with standard radiotherapy. NHS England has also introduced new ways of testing patients for cancer including piloting mini cameras that patients can swallow to test for bowel cancer.  
Professor Peter Johnson, NHS clinical director for cancer said: “Cancer has been a priority throughout the pandemic which is why NHS staff have fast-tracked patient access to more convenient and kinder treatments to provide as many people as possible with safe and effective care, even as the NHS cared for more than 380 000 people seriously ill with Covid.” 
Recent analysis showed that when NHS England introduced the new cancer therapies, it boosted the number of people having cancer treatments during the pandemic, when treatment might otherwise have been delayed or not safe to give at all. Professor Johnson added “Extending the use of ‘Covid-friendly’ treatments for cancer is another example of how we are embracing the full range of treatment options and bringing the NHS to patients at home in many cases.” 
The NHS put in place a £160 million initiative last year so that people with cancer could benefit from alternative, more covid friendly treatments. Annwen Jones OBE, Chief Executive of Target Ovarian Cancer, said: “This flexible approach to access to cancer drugs is to be welcomed, particularly during a global pandemic. It ensures that women with a rare type of ovarian cancer have access to the best possible treatments for them, bringing hope to a lot of families at a very difficult time.” 

The NHS has adopted new approaches to treat patients, but the rollout of the ‘swap’ scheme has been hugely successful. Particularly with keeping patients safe from coronavirus and the fact more people have accessed treatment since the start of the pandemic.  This could well be an approach that the NHS continues to adopt even post summer.  
For the latest innovations from the world of Oncology, including guidance for making your approach to medicine as effective and inclusive as possible, make sure you don’t miss our Oncology Convention, taking place on the 15th and 16th of September this year. It’s an opportunity to hear from the leading thinkers within the field, all while gaining CPD points. Register for free now!

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