25th August 2020
Kate Whitfield, one of Healthcare at Home’s specialist homecare nurses for the West Midlands adult team, tells us about her experience of undertaking Healthcare at Home’s systemic anti-cancer therapies course to become a qualified chemotherapy nurse.
Systemic anti-cancer therapies (SACT) are a range of therapies used to treat malignant cancers to improve a patient’s symptoms, their quality of life and where possible quantity of life. In my new role as a specialist homecare nurse working for Healthcare at Home, I visit patients in their home to administer SACT, in particular chemotherapy, across a large area of the West Midlands.
Our specialist homecare nurses see over 2,500 patients a year with all types of cancers through their chemotherapy treatment plan, from doing a pre-assessment that includes taking blood and talking through what they can expect, checking prescriptions, and regularly administering therapy based on the individual treatment protocol, through to post-treatment visits to monitor and help with any side effects they might experience.
Systemic anti-cancer therapies course
All nurses who work in SACT must have trained for their SACT Competency Passport developed by the UK Oncology Nursing Society (UKONS), which is re-assessed annually. The passport ensures nurses across the country have a standardised training focused both on safe drug delivery and supportive care. Nurses with the passport can practise anywhere in the U.K. and across employers, which can help to minimise professional training costs and reduce waiting times for patients.
I recently chose to take Healthcare at Home’s SACT course to develop my nursing competencies and progress my career to become a specialist homecare nurse. Prior to this, I had worked at Healthcare at Home for 13 years and been involved with the chemotherapy service for much of that time, but I had not actually administered chemotherapy myself. I wanted to directly support patients at what can be a very difficult time, and Healthcare at Home’s in-house training has made that possible.
The course is a six-month degree module focused on the principles and practice of chemotherapy, facilitated by Birmingham City University and run by Healthcare at Home’s clinical lead for chemotherapy. The standard course involves four days in a classroom setting and one day at Birmingham City University to learn the basics of SACT, its theories and the range and subtleties of the different cancer treatments; a week’s hospital placement to understand how chemotherapy supports other cancer treatments; a viva which is presented by the student under exam conditions and six months of visiting patients with qualified SACT teams to watch, learn and develop practical competencies in many different areas including intravenous, injection or oral delivery of chemotherapy.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I did a three-month intensive training with 10 other participants that involved five days of video conferencing and three months of visiting patients with qualified Healthcare at Home SACT nurses. To enable us to carry out the 3- month intensive training, all nurses undertaking the course are made supernumerary. The video conferencing was a really effective means of training, and although we couldn’t meet in person, various different speakers from Healthcare at Home, Birmingham City University and other organisations delivered training that included how people react to medications, side effects that can occur and how to use the infusion pump. I was particularly interested in the session on immunotherapies, which are administered to palliative patients and can help prolong their lives for a number of years.
During the training, I went on many home visits with Healthcare at Home’s amazing practice development nurses and my manager, who were all wonderful to work with and so generous in instructing and guiding me through my training. It’s fantastic that the team is so involved in the training and that they take the time to share their knowledge and expertise to develop our nurses.
When my home visits were completed and my competencies were reviewed and signed-off, I also had to research and prepare a case study based on the side-effects of a specific medication, including why they occur, and how they affect the patient psychologically and psychosocially, which I presented online as a viva (spoken exam) to our clinical lead for chemotherapy, our head of cancer and the associate professor from Birmingham City University. Although it had been a long time since I had done this type of work, I was thrilled to hear I had passed the course with flying colours.
Healthcare at Home’s SACT course has been very successful since it began, seeing 99 Healthcare at Home nurses qualify so far and progress with their professional development.
It’s been a real privilege to have taken part and I’m delighted to now be qualified as a chemotherapy nurse. The team has been incredibly supportive and encouraging and doing the course has given me a real confidence boost. I’m so pleased to now directly support patients receiving SACT treatment, and also their families, during what can be a stressful process.
The SACT passport will open doors for me should I want to consider other roles in cancer services in the future and I encourage any nurses who are interested in this excellent training to take part.