PUBLISHED ON: 8 July 2016

My name is Flora Sheringham. I’m a mother of three and a grandmother of five (and counting). Until a couple of years ago, I’d also had a demanding job, managing Family Learning in Cambridgeshire.

Having breast cancer can often feel awful and seems to be totally negative; having a voice made a positive difference and still does. The Service Pledge gave me that voice. It supports patients and staff and shows how even small changes can improve the experience for future patients. It’s important to know that the treatment you receive is excellent, but what makes a real impact on you and how you cope with having breast cancer is knowing that the caring professionals listen. It has been a privilege to work with the dedicated team at Hinchingbrooke Hospital as the Patient Representative for the Service Pledge for Breast Cancer.

I’d had breast cancer in 1987 which was treated with a lumpectomy and radiotherapy. 10 years ago I found lumps in my groin which were found to be Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma for which I had chemotherapy and radiotherapy. I’d just taken redundancy at work when in October 2014 I was diagnosed with a DCIS Grade 3 which resulted in me having a mastectomy and axillary clearance on that side. As I’d previously had radiotherapy on that side it was no longer an option, so it was followed by chemotherapy. Trauma in spades!

How did you get involved with the Service Pledge?

Although the treatment seemed endless and difficult, I felt it was excellent and the Breast Cancer Team were treating me as a person as well as my symptoms. This was something that sustained me at the time.

When I was sent a survey following my treatment, I was impressed that they were taking the time and wanted to know how they could improve the quality of care for breast cancer patients even further. I found out that this initiative was driven by Breast Cancer Now, who worked to deliver the Service Pledge for Breast Cancer with the hospital. I ticked the box asking for volunteers to take part in a further workshop and received an invitation to participate in September.

What did you do as a Patient Representative?

The workshop was facilitated by a ‘neutral’ representative. There were three Patient Representatives and two Patient Advocates (a small group – I understand that these can be larger elsewhere) who gave us opportunities to discuss the issues identified through the survey that patients felt could be improved. The Patient Advocates then wrote a report which was circulated to us for comment.

Shortly after that, Breast Cancer Now came to Hinchingbrooke and in a meeting with staff and me, as the Patient Representative, drafted the Service Pledge for Hinchingbrooke to be taken forward. Here again, the willingness to listen was evident. They seemed to really want to know how to make it better for patients and my contributions seemed to be valued. Together we discussed how they could be incorporated into current practice both in the short and longer term.

I was initially a bit wary in a roomful of medical professionals but was made so welcome. The whole process was relaxed and inclusive with Susanna (from Breast Cancer Now) in the chair. Not all the others knew all the acronyms either!

So what’s next?

The Service Pledge was launched in Spring 2016 and will be implemented over the coming months. The final version reflected pretty much what had been discussed. There were things that could be easily remedied and were quickly done, like some information for patients.

Other protocols were set in motion to be developed and trialled over the coming months and all these were included in the document. At the launch, an item on ‘you said – we did’ showed the progress made since the survey had been carried out – something that really needed patients’ involvement to have impact where it was needed.

I’d really recommend being a Patient Representative if you are considering it. The chance to be involved has made a positive difference for me personally and the fact that it can contribute to how breast cancer is perceived and treated just can’t be ignored.

More information

To find out more about the Service Pledge and being a Patient Advocate, take a look at our Service Pledge page.

Service Pledge