Vicki Willis, Lead Cancer Clinical Nurse Specialist, explains why supporting those who surround a patient is crucial to their holistic care.
The first job of a clinical nurse specialist (CNS) is to look after the patient. However, it’s rare for patients to be completely on their own – they are usually surrounded to a greater or lesser extent by family, friends, carers or neighbours, all of whom play an important role in their holistic care.
Vicki says that by helping out this support system as well as the individual receiving care, patients will feel less anxious about not just their own wellbeing, but the wellbeing of their carers too.
“From the first meeting you have to think of patients as part of an extended family – from families, partners, even teenage and adult children who are very involved in their care, to full time carers.
“When we first start supporting a patient, we complete a holistic needs assessment looking at their quality of life and activities of daily living. We often get the family involved to look at how they help, to make sure we also support them as well as we can.”
Putting your arms around the whole family
Vicki added that as a CNS it’s important to listen to everyone’s needs, even those that are perhaps unspoken – for example, a teenage son asked to deliver his mum’s personal care may appreciate help with these tasks (and his mum may feel that help would benefit them both).
“Often, a patient will say that a carer needs a word, and once we’ve spoken to them about whatever issues they want to raise, the patient feels relieved that their carer is being cared for,” added Vicki.
“Carers may also need support with their spiritual needs. While the CNSs can’t offer this directly, they can signpost them to religious groups, charities and helplines for all aspects of life.”
Listening first, talking second
Another aspect of Vicki’s role recently has been easing people’s fears during the pandemic. “People have been worrying that they may bring infection into the home, and it’s been part of my role to try to take the panic out of everyone.
“It’s a multi-faceted job, dealing with any side effects of the patient medication but also being a humanitarian.
“Ours is a privileged role, going into people’s homes and becoming part of their extended family. I have always believed it is important to be a listener first, and a speaker second. That means asking patients and their carers what they need before setting out to arrange that support, so that everyone receives what they need.”