When we announced the winners of our 2013 Nursing Network Awards we said we’d post more details of the winning projects. The awards go to individuals or teams who have helped patients by bringing fresh ideas into specialist breast care nursing practice. Here we look at the top entry in the Best multidisciplinary team project category.

When someone has secondary breast cancer – which cannot be cured but can often be successfully controlled sometimes for years – they may need lots of therapies and care from different hospital and community teams.

Clinical Nurse Specialist Tracey Colby at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust in Manchester noticed that this complexity – and the fact that treatments often keep people relatively well until the final few weeks of their life – may mean no-one’s thinking about the person holistically.

In turn this can lead to people dying in hospital after an emergency admission that could have been avoided with the help of holistic assessment and earlier palliative care. Palliative care focuses on symptom control and support.

Tracey was able to set up joint working with nursing breast consultant and other colleagues. The team aims to find all the people being treated at The Christie for secondary breast cancer who are in or near their last year of life. They then work with those people and their families to identify and address their needs.

Quality of life

They found that people are often scared even to ask about palliative care thinking it’s all about dying removing hope and stopping active treatment. But if specialist care teams are helped to be more open and honest with patients and their families about treatment choices and future care fewer people have to be admitted as emergencies and there’s greater emphasis on a patient’s wishes preferences and quality of life.

One patient said: ‘A weight has been lifted off my shoulders now that everything is out in the open.’ And another commented that they were ‘now able to enjoy each day and live life to the fullest.’

Some of the Christie team's main aims are to:

  • ensure a holistic approach and introduce palliative care at an earlier stage
  • ensure there’s community support for patients
  • be a point of contact for patients family and community teams
  • ensure the best quality of life for patients
  • prevent inappropriate hospital admissions.

Tracey said: ‘Advance care planning is now an integral part of patient reviews regardless of who sees that patient. It is so important to ask and find out what care patients would like to receive.’

Our work with The Christie

As part of our Secondary breast cancer service pledge campaign with Breakthrough Breast Cancer we’ve recently worked with The Christie on the launch of a booklet explaining what secondary breast cancer patients can expect before during and after their treatment. The booklet also highlights improvements to services for people with secondary breast cancer that The Christie is working towards.

We’re here to help

You can watch this short video where Tara one of our clinical nurse specialists and Marie who has secondary breast cancer talk about dealing with the uncertainty that a diagnosis of secondary breast cancer can bring.

You can also read more information about secondary breast cancer and decision-making.

If you’d like to talk to someone about the issues raised here or any other breast cancer or breast health concern please call our Helpline on 0808 800 6000.

Nursing Network Awards

Entry to our annual awards with top prizes of £1000 is open to members of our Nursing Network. Healthcare professionals can join the network if they spend more than 50% of their time with breast cancer patients.