The Royal Marsden

How The Royal Marsden's Innovation Den is encouraging new ideas to support cancer patients

A closer look into two projects - innovated by staff and funded by the Innovation Den - which are designed to help patients following a cancer diagnosis.
Tamsin Longley and Sarah Stapleton, the staff behind one of the innovations, smile while posing next to a phsyio bed at The Royal Marsden hospital

Based on the format of the BBC TV show Dragon’s Den, the Innovation Den has been running for three years, with staff from all areas of the Trust putting forward their ideas for projects that will enhance patients’ experience and safety.

After their initial application, the shortlisted entrants present their proposals to a panel, who decide which ones should receive a Royal Marsden Cancer Charity grant of between £5,000 and £60,000.

Here’s a closer look at two projects that are helping to improve patients’ quality of life after treatment.

Support for ‘chemo brain’

Most of us take for granted the ability to think, plan and remember. But for some patients with cancer, this ability can become impaired by treatments such as chemotherapy.

Cognitive impairment, or ‘chemo brain’ as it’s often called, is a common problem for cancer patients. It can mean they struggle to remember things, concentrate, or find the right words, which can have a huge impact on daily life. Yet despite this, the problem is often unreported by patients and missed by health professionals.

Sarah Stapleton, Clinical Nursing Research Fellow, and Tamsin Longley, Occupational Therapist, recognised a need for greater support for patients experiencing cognitive impairment. They felt a dual approach was necessary – to arm both staff and patients with the tools they need to identify and manage the problem.

With their Innovation Den grant, they’re creating videos for patients that explain the symptoms of cognitive impairment, how to talk to a doctor or nurse about it, and how to seek specialist help if necessary. They’ll also produce an online learning module for staff so that they can effectively recognise the signs and refer for help if needed.

Dance teacher Natalie Hall, 46, underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy at The Royal Marsden after she was diagnosed with breast cancer and told that she had the BRCA2 genetic mutation. She says she has benefited hugely from the project.

“My short-term memory felt severely affected after treatment,” she says.

“My brain felt so muddled that I was panicking that the cancer had spread. I found it difficult to concentrate – and as I’m self-employed, it was vital that I could continue to work. I would regularly find myself in rooms not knowing why I was there. Once, I went to pick my daughters up from school and left the bath running at home, flooding my entire living room.”

Natalie was relieved to learn that her cognitive impairment was a side effect of cancer treatment, and she says the course helped instil a belief in herself and her capabilities.

“It has been amazing,” she says. “The tools and techniques I’ve learned are brilliant – they’ll stay with me forever. I still keep in touch with my group. It was reassuring to know other people were going through the same thing.

“I’d like to thank Tamsin for putting her heart into creating such an important project and The Royal Marsden for all their support. It’s made such a difference to my life and really helped with being able to use my brain more efficiently.”

Personalised exercise plans

Exercise is hugely beneficial for mental and physical health, and there is growing evidence that it can play a key role in cancer therapy, too.

Thanks to an Innovation Den award, The Royal Marsden has teamed up with The Exercise Clinic to create THRIVE – a comprehensive, personalised exercise programme designed to benefit people with prostate cancer. The project aims to improve patients’ energy levels and mental wellbeing, and ease the side effects of their treatment.

Patients are referred to a physiotherapist funded by the program. Those who do not need further physiotherapy are referred to a clinical exercise specialist and receive a personalised care plan, group exercise sessions, and access to The Exercise Clinic’s app and its monitoring and support platform.

Last year, hundreds of prostate cancer patients benefited from the THRIVE programme. Now, with the help of a generous donation to the Charity from health solutions company Simplyhealth, the project will continue into its second year.

Patient David Gullen, 64, who is enrolled on the THRIVE programme, said: “Keeping active is helping to control the fatigue and combat side effects of my hormone treatment. In some ways, I think I’m stronger now than I have felt in years.”