The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust

New Macmillan Rehabilitation Team improves aftercare of head and neck cancer patients

29 January 2014

A new four-strong team based at Leeds Teaching Hospitals are providing integrated aftercare for patients in Leeds affected by head and neck cancer.

Funded by Macmillan Cancer Support as an 18-month project, the Rehabilitation Team aims to improve support for patients following completion of treatment, improving outcomes and quality of life for individuals, reducing readmissions and ensuring better use of consultant clinics.

The quartet are Specialist Dietitian Katie Smith, Clinical Nurse Specialist Gail Pettinger, Speech and Language Therapist Paula Adam and Clinical Support Worker Sobia Shabbir.  Their philosophy is summed up by their vision: “for you, with you, rebuilding lives.”

They are based in the Bexley Wing at St James’s University Hospital, and will also be holding out-of-hospital sessions at the St George’s Conference Centre close to Leeds General Infirmary.

Gail Pettinger commented: “Up until now head and neck patients had no funded post-treatment team, and after having such good support on treatment, many of them commented it was a shock once they finished and felt unsure what to expect and who to turn to for help.”

Paula Adam added: “Patients with head and neck cancers often have a range of issues to cope with so it makes sense to have a team in one place who can offer integrated help, advice and reassurance.  They may have problems with swallowing or with their diet and be suffering the side effects of chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery. Patients can also struggle with communication or simply be feeling isolated and unsure what to do once they are recovering at home.”

Katie Smith said: “Since the team formed the early feedback has been really positive and we have already been referred 80 patients of a variety of ages and backgrounds. Each patient is an individual with their own concerns and questions so it really helps them to be able to access support in one place. We are keen to design personal goals for each patient to help speed up their recovery and ensure they feel an active part of their rehabilitation. It is great for us to see the progress that patients are making with the help of the team.”

As part of their rehabilitation the team have designed a rolling programme of education,Facing Forward. This is where head and neck patients can meet up in a safe and supportive environment with other patients in the same situation to talk about issues and share information. These will get underway in February with the first session being about eating well and solutions for swallowing. 

Other sessions will focus on oral health, good communication, living with an altered airway, changing habits (e.g. smoking, alcohol, lifestyle), being active, coping as a carer and work-life balance.

New patients treated by the head and neck cancer team in Leeds are automatically referred to the rehabilitation team, and other patients and carers affected by head and neck cancer can also access their support regardless of when they finished treatment.

To contact the team, please ring 0113 2068734 or email LeedsH&