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Macmillan Unit makes its mark for the third time

The Macmillan Unit located at the West Suffolk Hospital has been awarded the Macmillan Quality Environment Mark (MQEM) for the third time. The MQEM award champions cancer environments that go above and beyond to create welcoming and friendly spaces for patients. MQEM was designed in collaboration with people living with cancer and assesses a number of factors in these categories:

  • Design and use of space
  • The user’s journey
  • Service experience
  • The user’s voice.

Nicky McKee, manager of the Macmillan Information Centre, said: “Due to Covid-19 restrictions we completed a 90-page self-assessment, including supporting information such as patient surveys, and were able to share feedback from 500 responses we had to the annual questionnaire we send to our cancer services user group. Feedback from WSFT cancer patients via the National Cancer Patient Experience Survey was also presented.”

The unit was rated “very good”, with a level 4 (out of a possible 5) award. This followed an audit that is undertaken every three years, and involved the submission of dozens of photographs throughout the unit showing everything from the Macmillan Day Unit, inpatient ward and Information and Support Centre. Macmillan also contacted a number of patients from different sections of the service to get their views on issues such as privacy, dignity and the welcome they received.

“They all said how valued they felt by the staff, and how welcoming it was to be greeted by smiling faces,” said Nicky. “One patient said they felt they were treated with so much respect they could have been in a hotel. It was noted that people knew they would get the time they needed and not feel rushed. On a practical note, patients said they were well-informed about practicalities like access, parking and what to bring with them.”

“We were so pleased and delighted to be awarded the MQEM again especially in view of these challenging times. Of course, there are always things that can be better, and we can take any learning forward, particularly in the planning for the new healthcare facility.”

The Macmillan Unit includes an oncology and haematology 12-bed ward, run by ward manager Laura Talbot, where acutely-ill patients are cared for in side rooms. In the Oncology Day Unit (ODU), which is managed by Veronica Lewis, chemotherapy and immunotherapy are provided for both oncology and haematology patients. The acute oncology service (AOS) is a specialist team that looks after patients during their treatment, which could include admission to hospital or continuous review in the community.

The Information and Support Centre provides a range of free, comprehensive information and support to cancer patients, their families and carers. People can arrange an appointment at the centre or drop in at their convenience. Nicky McKee said: “I feel privileged to do this, spending time with people and their families. We offer a relaxed environment where we aim to provide a service that meets individual needs of people dealing with cancer. This includes financial support, wigs, keeping active, feelings of anxiety and lots more. We provide a listening ear and are here to help with any non-clinical issues.”

The unit stayed open throughout the pandemic, but as with most services emails and phone calls were used to keep in touch with many of the people who needed support.

Kerry Gwatkin, a sister on the unit, said: “We have many unique areas in the Macmillan Unit, and each has a very positive impact on a patient’s journey, which makes us enormously proud. Seeing patients throughout their treatment gives us all the drive to deliver passionate and effective care to assist them in their NHS journey.”

Beyond the hospital site, there is a Mobile Cancer Care Unit, funded by the charity Hope for Tomorrow, which travels between Stowmarket, Newmarket, Sudbury and Thetford weekly. Kerry said: “This is a great addition to our unit and enables us to deliver effective care to patients that might not have the means to reach the hospital, as well as easing pressure on the ODU.”

Lead cancer nurse Karen McKinnon said: “The retention of this award is a tribute to all the staff on the unit, who have worked tirelessly through these challenging times to continue to provide excellent, holistic care to people with cancer and their loved ones. It was so good to hear that people feel welcomed and well looked after in a comfortable and calm environment. Our aim is to provide a full range of services and support to meet the individual needs of people facing cancer.”

To complement and support the cancer care services available across the region, the Macmillan cancer navigator service works in the community and with local GP surgeries to offer people the chance to have a one to one, personal conversation about their non-medical needs.

  • The Macmillan Information Centre is open Monday to Friday, 9am - 4.30pm. Anybody can drop in, no appointment is necessary. Telephone: 01284 713023, or email:
  • Macmillan Support Line: 08088 080000 – seven days a week, 8am to 8pm, free of charge.

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