The Royal Marsden announces telephone support for cancer patients during Loneliness Awareness Week

This Loneliness Awareness Week (14-18 June), The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust announced it has launched a telephone support service for cancer patients experiencing isolation. 

The specialist cancer hospital developed the Telephone Befriending and Supportive Listening service in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic as shielding and lockdown measures, including hospital visitor restrictions, has increased feelings of loneliness for many cancer patients.  

Patients are referred to the service via staff, including the hospital’s Adult Psychological Support team who are funded by The Royal Marsden Cancer Charity, and are then matched with a volunteer for weekly calls. So far, 17 volunteers have signed up, including some Royal Marsden staff, and all have been specially trained in supportive listening.

Referrals to the service started in March 2021 and it is being funded until December as part of the NHS England Winter Volunteering Programme. However, the hospital plans to continue the service beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and secure further funding for 2022. 

Edie Cleary, 82 from Sutton, was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in July 2020 at her local hospital, just months after her husband of 60 years, Michael, died from Alzheimer’s disease. Edie was referred to The Royal Marsden for treatment and has received support through the service.

Edie Cleary, 82 from Sutton
Edie Cleary, 82 from Sutton

She said: “I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and treated with a mastectomy. However, when I found lumps on the back of my head a month before Michael passed away, I knew I wasn’t well again, and I was told in August that the cancer had spread to my bones. 

“While I was shocked the cancer had returned, the impact of my husband’s death on my mental health along with the dreadful experience of lockdown, has honestly been harder to deal with. It’s been incredibly lonely, so my weekly calls with Janet have been really helpful. She’s really lovely to talk to and I’m grateful The Royal Marsden organised this support, along with everything else they’ve done for me.”

Janet Barton, 62 from Cambridge, volunteers for the Befriending Service and has been supporting Edie for around two months.

Janet Barton, 62 from Cambridge
Janet Barton, 62 from Cambridge

She said: “I decided to volunteer for this new service as, like most people, I’ve known family and friends who have had cancer, so I know it can be a very frightening and lonely time. This has intensified during the pandemic, with many cancer patients shielding for well over a year, which made me want to help even more. 

“During my calls with Edie, we talk about everything and nothing – once we’ve picked up the phone it’s non-stop chatter. I’m delighted to help to support her in this difficult time and it’s been a good outlet for me too – like so many, I’ve missed social connections from normal, everyday life.”

Barry Pridmore, Head of Volunteers at The Royal Marsden, said: 

“People often feel isolated after a cancer diagnosis, with many feeling like friends and family don’t understand what they’re going through or not wanting to upset others by talking about their feelings. We know the pandemic has made a lonely time even lonelier and we designed this service to help cancer patients experiencing isolation by connecting them with friendly, specially trained volunteers.”