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New role will help counter national shortage of cancer specialists

Image shows two radiotherapists in a radiotherapy treatment room

A new role has been created at the South West Wales Cancer Centre in Swansea to help counter a national shortage of cancer specialists and potentially speed up access to treatment.

Rebecca Lloyd, currently a review radiographer in the radiotherapy department, will now train to become a consultant radiographer. The role is the first of its kind in Swansea Bay.

Rebecca will specialise in urology, initially focusing on the large number of prostate cancer patients across South West Wales.

Main image above: Rebecca Lloyd (left) and Nicki Davies

Once fully qualified, she will be able to complement the work currently undertaken by oncologists.

It’s part of a workforce transformation across the health board aimed at recruiting and retaining staff and creating new career opportunities.

Radiotherapy services manager Nicki Davies explained the new role was partly to provide career progression but also to support oncologists.

“Until now, the only way you could go past the level of seniority Bec is currently working at would be to go into management,” she said.

“But not everybody wants to go into management. Some want to stay patient-facing.

“This development creates an opportunity to go beyond that level while remaining purely patient-focused.

“On top of that, there is a UK shortage of oncologists at the moment. But best of all it frees up more time for patients.”

Rebecca qualified as a treatment radiographer in 2009. Since then she has worked in Singleton Hospital, where the cancer centre is located, eventually progressing to a radiotherapy review radiographer.

“I review all patients receiving radiotherapy,” she said. “This involves managing treatment and cancer side-effects such as diarrhoea, nausea and pain. I am a non-medical prescriber, prescribing medication to help get them through treatment.

“I also deal with holistic needs of the patient and help signpost them to the relevant help, depending on their individual concerns.”

Rebecca said providing a gold standard of care had always been of paramount importance to her.

The new role means she can continue to focus on patients but in an extended way, following them throughout the entirety of their care by taking on some of the work currently only undertaken by oncologists.

Examples include discussing treatment options, supporting the shared decision-making process and obtaining informed consent.

Oncologists can also work with the medical physics team to plan the radiotherapy treatments, review side-effects and help patients manage them. They follow up treatment outcomes too.

Rebecca already does some of this work. Once she has finished her training in 18-24 months, she will be able to do all of it. “This will help with the shortage of consultant oncologists,” she said.

“At first I will focus on less complex work. With experience I will become involved in more complex cases and run my own caseload and clinics.

“I will be involved in research, trials and teaching within urology, and help develop other radiographers who want to work in extended roles.

“Being the first, I will set the standards for future radiotherapy consultant radiographers in Swansea Bay and put the foundations down to ensure these positions can flourish.

“I am also hoping to develop an all-Wales framework, in collaboration with other cancer centres in Wales.”

Image shows two radiographers in a radiotherapy treatment room Rebecca, who starts her training this month, added it might help reduce the time to radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer patients.

“If there is only one consultant there are only so many people they can see in a clinic. You bring me in as well and you are doubling the number of patients who can be seen.

“The prostate cancer service covers a large area from Aberystwyth to just this side of Bridgend. It’s a huge group. My starting point will be patients with prostate cancer because that is our most common patient group.

“In the longer term it will cover bladder cancer and other urology cancers. But we have gone in for prostate to begin with as it is one of our biggest patient throughputs.”

While Rebecca will work exclusively in urology, which has a large number of prostate cancer patients, it is hoped a second consultant radiographer, specialising in breast radiotherapy, will eventually be recruited.

“These are the two largest patient groups so it is where we can provide the most support to the oncologists and, most importantly, the patients,” said Nicki.

Consultant oncologist Dr Mau-Don Phan said: “Becky and her team have looked after my patients undergoing prostate cancer radiotherapy for over a decade. I have always been impressed by her kind and caring attitude and professionalism.

“She developed the radiotherapy review service from scratch, and it is now an integral part of our holistic uro-oncology service. Her progression to the first consultant radiographer in urology is only natural.

“We have a significant workforce issue in oncology. We need to prioritise new models of working and enhance skill mix in our department to respond to the ever-increasing demand for radiotherapy.”

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