Monthly Archives: December 2010

Booking your holiday? Don't forget to book your insurance too – especially if you have cancer

The cover of the old British E111 booklet
Image via Wikipedia


With medical costs soaring in other countries as well as UK, cancer patients are warned they must have medical insurance when they go abroad, even if they hold the EHIC Card (European Health Insurance).
Why?  Because EHIC only covers you for emergency treatment – not repatration costs (if you have to be flown home).  Even from a European city this can cost over £20 – £50,000 by Air Ambulance.
But trying to find insurance for a holiday, many of us find problems.  We are quoted wildly differing premiums, and cancer charities have been concerned that many post cancer patients find they are quoted a massive premium – sometimes more than the trip will cost.
Others complain that they have been refused insurance “because they didn’t tick the right boxes” when interrogated by insensitive Call Centre staff.
It is no use going to Europe and expecting the EHIC (European Health Insurance Card) to cover you completely if you need treatment – all you will be given is emergency cover, and NO help with repatriation. Go further afield, what the brochures don’t tell you is how far you might have to be airlifted if there is a medical problem – and who will pay for this?
When booking a holiday, how many tour operators will have the expertise to tell you if there is a suitable hospital near by – or, if you go somewhere like the Galapagos, how many hours it will take to transfer you to the nearest medical centre?
Gap in market
So, seeing a gap in the market, insurance expert Krish Shastri set up MediTravel Cover and . He says “our sole purpose is the provision of travel insurance to those diagnosed with cancer. Our interests are aligned with those of the patient – our existence is dependent on our ability to help, and we do not have conflicts of interest”.
This service is highly specialised, with each case being individually assessed, and “given our focus on cancer, all our applicants must be in the care of an oncologist. In order to better reflect our specialist skills we adopted the trading style ‘InsureCancer’  – this change does not affect the registered company (Medi Travelcover Ltd.) details.
We are able to provide cover for those ‘on treatment’ including chemotherapy, radiotherapy, hormone therapy or for those awaiting treatment, surgery etc. Our main requirement is that the patient should be clinically well for their trip. As part of the process of establishing clinical fitness we may contact the attending oncologist for clinical information”.
But don’t expect them to provide a cheap quote for a trip to the Galapagos – apparently it can take around 14 hours to transfer somone with a broken leg!
Each case is individually underwritten on the basis of clinical fitness; “we do not use arbitrary guidelines such as age etc. i.e. no age limits apply. However, we do take into account the standards of medical care available at the chosen destination. In addition, the patient’s clinical fitness requirements for Paris will be quite different to the requirements for Perth, Australia.
When I made a ‘test call’ and asked if I could be insured to go to a popular destination, I was quoted a very reasonable rate – which included all my warts!’
But when I enquired if the cost would be the same for the same length of flight to another popular destination, I was told that this would be almost impossible to obtain, as the medical cover at that resort was not considered suitable – (translation: definitely not up to standard!)
So it reassuring to know that the company has the expertise and knowledge about medical facilities around the world, including the USA.
Krish says “you may be interested to know that H.M. The Queen bestowed the country’s highest corporate honour ‘The Queen’s Award for Enterprise’ on InsureCancer and Medi Travelcover Ltd. in recognition of: “Pioneering insurance underwriting innovation for those affected by cancer.”
1.  You MUST carry an EHIC card if going to European destinations.  You will be asked to show this, and if you don’t, your insurer might charge you for the difference that the hospital will charge them.  You get it from your local Post Office.

2.  The internet has become the top source of information for patients seeking the latest and best medical treatment options, however, it is also potentially open to abuse, particularly when seeking insurance quotations.

Dr Richard Theo warns patients to seek independent, authoritative sources of information only and to be aware of ‘‘Sham Websites’.  He says: “Watch out for sham websites, unfortunately there are numerous websites that say that they will provide you with quotes and price comparisons when in fact all they do is take your personal information and sell it on.” In guidelines prepared for in Capital Health Dr Theo has prepared a simple checklist to, “suss them out”. He says, “If they don’t do all of the following then look elsewhere:

  • the website should demonstrate the service they provide before taking your information for example a video or pictures that show sample quotes or the price comparison features of the website
  • the website should be run by an FSA authorised company with their registration number displayed plainly at the bottom and the words “Authorised and regulated by the FSA” and not “appointed representative”
  • the website should provide a freephone telephone number plainly on the home page to allow you to contact them. If they don’t then it’s just a sham website phishing for your personal information. Call the number and ask whether they are able to advise you themselves

A concern that patients often discuss with in Capital Health is the all-too frequent discovery that the private medical insurance (PMI) cover they thought was in place, is not.  In response to these concerns, in Capital Health has created a new ‘Your Health Insurance’ section on the in Capital Health menu bar.

But choose your insurer carefully, and one day you may find you are eternally grateful, when a kindly voice on the telephone miles away says, “don’t worry – you are covered – and we will take care of all the administration”.

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Isn't it about time the Government learnt from Europe, and saw why their post cancer survival rates are better?

They could start with the country of La Dolce Vita, which has  surprisingly sophisticated medical treatments

Before the election, David Cameron was using Europe’s better post-cancer survival statistics as an electioneering platform.

Now, whenever Andrew Lansley gets up to talk he repeats the same mantra.  One of these days I shall stand up and ask, “well why don’t you go and see what is being done in Europe?”

If Italy can provide the most effective and efficient post cancer treatment, in delightful surroundings, it seems incredible we don’t send doctors and physios to copy.

I have just returned from Petriolo Spa Resort, near  Sienna, where I went to get a medical MOT, and in particular do something about my skin.

Osteoporosis had hit in the past year, and as a result my medics have put me on the most horrible tablets which wreak havoc with my skin – not to mention my appetite.

We had the greatest difficulty finding the spa, as the setting is so gorgeous we kept on driving past, imagining it was a five-star hotel.  Eventually we drove in, and this really was the place.  Once inside, we just couldn’t believe what is offered to people who want medical treatment – this is state-of -the art cutting technology, combined with a gracious Italian way of medical care.

As with all medical health spas in Italy, this is  in the Government system, licenced by the Ministry of Health.  The doctors one meets are ‘proper’ doctors, and incredibly enthusiastic about offering the best treatment possible for their patients.  Shortly after you arrive, you have an appointment with a doctor, who advises you which of the many pools you can use.

‘My’ doctor was Dr. Elena Ceccarelli, an Endocrinologist.   Very competently she took my medical history, then charmingly advised which thermal pools I could use;  but said the main one, fed by warm sulphur springs at a temperature of 42 º, was a no-no with my skin problems.

Then she said NO to the sauna as well, and I must remember to take her advice.  . But there were plenty of other pools to swim and jump around in.

The attention to detail was fantastic, and having been lulled by the luxury, one began to sense there was a  serious purpose underlying all the treatments.

Medical Director

My first appointment with the Medical Director, Dr. Luigi Brocchi, was fascinating.  He was in charge of the whole complex, and trained in Sienna as a surgeon.  He then began to get very interested in his patients as a whole, and what happened to them once they had left his operating theatre.

Gradually turning to doctoring, as opposed to surgery, he is now noted for Angiology, which is the medical specialty studying diseases of circulatory system and of the lymphatic system,  i.e., arteries, veins and lymphatic vases, and its diseases.  We call this angiology,  but in the States it is called Vascular medicine.

360º treatments

He may be in charge of a team offering the latest treatments, but his speciality is old-fashioned doctoring, or as he puts it, “providing 360º treatments”.

What is the form?

Your doctor can refer you to Dr. Brocchi, or you can self-refer and book yourself  in.  In Europe they assume we are gown-up enough to know what we need, and the Choose and Book’ system would send Italians off screaming.

When I asked Andy Burnham (Minister of Health in the last Government), what he would like to adopt from European system of healthcare, he had no hesitation in saying “get rid of doctor’s referral letters”.

If you want to spend your money on a treatment that might be superfluous that is up to you.  But 99% of patients know what they want, and doctors and hospitals in Europe give it to them without a fuss.

If you self-refer, remember to bring all your relevant letters and forms for the doctor who admits you.  Visitors who come for treatment are examined by a doctor, before they are allowed into these thermal waters – and even friends and family who come with them are encouraged to see the doctor.  “After all, it’s free”, they are told with a charming smile.

I was examined by Dr. Elena Ceccarelli, an Endocrinoligist, who knew all about dry skin and side effects from drugs.  She surprised me by saying I mustn’t go in the two hot pools – at 43º they would dry out my skin, etc. Neither should I use the Sauna – again bad for my skin, and something to remember for the future. But this didn’t worry me, as there were two other large pools I could use, plus lots of smaller ‘fun’ pools, each exercising a different part of the body.

The hot thermal waters contain Sulphuretted-saline-sulphate-bicarbonate-alkaline-terrene water, so there is a slight whiff of sulphur as you pass by, but six feet away you can’t smell anything.  However, on our way to the Spa we had passed the Farna River, where people were bathing in the thermal waters where the Romans and the Pope had been before them, and the whiff of sulphur hit you as you drove past.  As I was shown around by Barbara Scorza, I asked why their pools only had a minute amount of sulphur smell.  She said this was because they pumped the waters up 1000 feet higher than the river, which dispersed most of the smell.   So all the benefits of sulphur, without the smell!  Clever.

What does Petriolo treat?Guest having massage

It might be better to ask for a list of what it doesn’t treat – but here is an outline:

  • Acute articular rheumatisms
  • After effects of psoriasitic
  • After-effects of disk, hernia, euritis and polyneuritis
  • Cardiac vascular diseases
  • Diseases of the respiratory system
  • Gynaecological ailments
  • Osteoarthrosis
  • Pagets and duputren’s disease
  • Rhinitis
  • Sequelae of fractures and sprains
  • Sinusitis
  • Skin disease (acne, seborrhoea, chronic eczemas erythema, psoriasis, pityriasis, tooth-rash, sycosis, cellulitis)
  • Spondylarthrosis of the vertebrae
  • and of course the problems I had come with after cancer – there is a fuller list on the website

Rooms, Food and other essentials

English-speaking staff welcomed me by name as I came through the door, and I was shown to a room with breathtaking views across wild Tuscan hillside inhabited by wild boar and porcupines.Junior Suite

The room was an incredible show-case for beautiful Tuscan craftsmanship.  The floors were inlaid marble as was the bathroom, and I relished the luxury.  It sounds OTT – but in Italy it is par for the course!  As I unpacked, I found the coat hangers were ‘proper’ ones – not those horrid thief-proof ones most hotels give you today (you try reaching up to click them in place when you are only just over five  foot!).

I could have stayed leaning over the balcony for hours – but pools, gym with fun machines, and even a walk in the forest beckoned;  if you want to go walking the boars and porcupines keep well away from humans, but you might find porcupine quills.

So it was off for my first treatment for dry skin, then a blissful time where I meant to try out all the pools – but just stuck to the big one and floated up and down.

The Spa Team

“Sineidos” is a Greek word dear to the Medical Director, Dr. Brocchi.  It means  “being aware”, and has lent its name to Petriolo Spa Resort’s L’Accademia di Sineidologia, that takes shape in the Well-Being Studio.  Based here is  a group of medical professionals, well-being specialists, personal trainers, nutritionists, cosmetologists and chefs, who create and perform selected treatments, combinations of classical and alternative medicine, preparations of fresh biocosmesis, energy dieting and a lot more besides.

The team also treats Nutrition and Diet, Osteopathy and Posturology, Physiokinesitherapy, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, food intolerance testing, Reumatology, Traditional Thai Massage, etc.   etc.

And if you want to wander off into the Tuscan hills, this is the perfect location to explore arts, history, food and the wines in Siena, San Galgano, Montalcino, Montepulciano, Castiglion della Pescaia, Argentario, etc.

Gourmet Food

That evening I was exhausted – doing nothing except having a nice friendly medical ‘chat’, having a specialised massage and trying out the swimming pools makes one tired!

So I decided on a simple chicken dish for dinner; the rest of the group decided on fish..  But what dishes!  Pasquale D’Ambrosio, the Executive Chef, has a strong following, and this meal showed why.  It was the most fantastic gourmet meal – showing how a good chef can transform the most simple ingredients into a superb meal.  Bliss!food


obviously plays a big part in treatments, and I was given ones tailored to my skin problems.  A combination of deep, warm thermal mud and various oils massaged in with superb skill restored my skin so well, that one month after my treatments my  skin is still smooth.  There are no rough patches, and if I miss a ‘creaming’ it doesn’t matter – long may this last!  So the MOT produced excellent results, and I will be returning for more treatment (if only we had this on the NHS!)

It might also be due to a trial bottle of special skin oils being developed by Dr. Brocchi.  He gave me a sample, which  seems to work extremely well;  and as soon as the range is on the market I will be writing more.

Dr. Brocchi had also taken note of my other ‘aches and pains’, and made sure that the exercise classes and other treatments were tailored to my recovery.  Even having a facial, the therapists are well-trained and ensure that you skin is treated to mitigate the effects of drugs.   There were other treatments some of us tried out – I will be writing about these on another posting.

Polio and problems with balance

My ‘consultation’ ranged over so many topics, and I happened to mention I had had polio.  Immediately Brocchi picked this up,  and asked if I had been tested on a Pedana Stabilometrica machine?  Seeing my  bemused look,  he picked up the phone and told Elisabetta Urgelli, their Gym Manager (and Certified Fitness Instructor) to take me under her wing.

I spent over an hour ‘playing’ with this machine;  there aren’t many around, principally because they cost around £40,000 each.  But to anyone who has problems with stability, this gives incredibly complex and accurate measurements to enable physios to target which muscles need exercising.


– rates are incredibly low for such superb rooms, food and treatments.  The price of a double for one night is from €190 (about £180);  cheaper of course for longer stays.  If you go on the website you can see all-in prices, special deals, etc.   B&B (including room, breakfast, initial consultation with doctor, use of gym with incredible machinery, the Kneipp programme, and a natural water massage) is €990 a week (£900 approx)

How to reach the Hotel:

By car coming from north:

Highway A1 exit “Firenze Certosa” turn right following the indication “Siena 4 corsie” for 62 km.

Close to Siena follow direction to Grosseto (S.S. 223), at the km 40,600 on the left side you will reach the main entrance of the Hotel.

By car coming from south:

Highway A1 exit “Valdichiana” turn right following indication (S.S. 327 Siena-Bettolle) 50 km.

Close to Siena follow direction to Grosseto (S.S. 223), at the km 40,600 on the left side you will reach the main entrance of the Hotel.

More information on

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Worried about mobile phones? New gizmo provides shield

Mobile phones and cancer

So far there is no good scientific evidence that using mobile phones can cause any type of cancer, according to Cancer Research UK (CRUK).

However, they go on to say, “while it is unlikely that these phones could increase the risk of cancer, we do not know enough to completely rule out a risk”.

And that worries the public, and also scientists working on studies – many of whom tell me they won’t allow their children to use mobiles, “in case…”

So anyone who, like me, feels that there may be a risk – and wants to safeguard themselves,  could be interested in two new devices on the market:

  • a quartz phoneShield
  • and a quartz wi-fiShield.

These are tiny devices, easy to fix, about the size of a coin, that stick onto the back of a mobile, or the router of your wi-fi system.

Worrying fact

CRUK say that some studies have suggested that people with brain cancer are more likely to have tumours on the side of their head to which they hold their phone.

In these studies, their overall risk of brain cancer is usually not any higher, although their report goes on to say, “this strange “side-of-head effect” is probably due to problems with the way the research studies were designed. These studies ask people with cancer to remember how they used their phones, often many years ago”.

But …. again, I am worried.

There is a health risk…

So far, CRUK say the only health issue firmly associated with mobile phones is an increased risk of car accidents! People who use mobile phones while driving, even with a hands-free kit, are easily distracted and are four times more likely to be involved in an accident.

Originally both hands-held and hands-free phones were due to be banned from use whilst someone was driving, but it was argued that not enough evidence had been produced to justify banning hands-free, so these devices aren’t covered by law.

However, so many accidents have been caused by drivers using hands-free, that the Police in many areas will now go through phone bills after an accident.  If a driver has been using a hands-free phone within ten minutes of the accident (it is reckoned that the brain takes that long to get back into gear after using these phones) then they are likely to dig deeply when prosecuting.

Other uses

Incidentally, if worried – phoneShields can also be used to great effect on the following devices, all of which are responsible for close personal proximity to exposure to radiated electromagnetism.  They are listed in priority because of wave frequency, radiation intensity or user proximity.

  • Mobile phones (aka cell phones) including Smartphones (Blackberries, I-Phones, etc)
  • Cordless telephone (DECT) handsets in conjunction with wi-fiShield on the Base Station
  • Bedside radios and digital clocks
  • PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants)
  • Netbooks
  • Portable SatNavs
  • Bluetooth devices
  • Any other small electrical devices used for extended periods in close proximity to any part of the body.

Still worried?  See

for more information, and details of phones scientists consider most/least likely to be at fault.

Cost :  phoneshield £12.50

wi-fiShield   £15

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Smoking worsens cancer pain

A 21 mg dose Nicoderm CQ patch applied to the ...
Patches  Wikipedia

Now is time to Quit

Many friends with cancer smoke, which is understandable when you are denied so many other pleasures.

But recent research can’t be ingnored, and has come up with the conclusion that smoking may be associated with greater feelings of pain by patients with a wide range of cancer types and in all stages.

Now, free nicotine patches are to be offered in Supermarkets,  on the NHS, as part of the health drive to help smokers quit.

Coupons offering smokers a week’s free trial will be part of the Quit Kits, and the scheme starts January 1st.  As an incentive, some bright spark has worked out that if you smoke a packet a day, quitting will save you £2,000 a year.

What does research say?

United Press International is latest source, and they report that Lead investigator Joseph W. Ditre of Texas A&M University in College Station also says smoking may be linked, to the extent pain interferes with a patient’s daily routine.

Ditre and colleagues surveyed 224 patients with a range of cancer diagnoses. Patients completed self-report measures of pain severity, pain-related distress, and pain-related interference as well as a demographics questionnaire.

The study, published in the journal Pain, found current smokers with cancer experienced more severe pain than those who never smoked. Current smokers also reported more interference from pain than either those who never smoked, or former smokers.

Among former smokers, the researchers found an inverse relation between pain and the number of years since quitting. This suggests, they say, that quitting smoking may reduce pain over time.

“To elucidate important relations between pain and smoking among persons with cancer and to identify prospective targets for intervention, it is necessary to build upon past findings by examining smoking status and pain reporting in greater detail, across a wider range of cancer patients, and with regard to potential benefits of quitting smoking,” Ditre says in a statement.

How to get patches

Sometimes, we DO know best when it comes to our health

Image by Auntie P via Flickr

Side effects of cancer drugs

often surface years after

drug approval


Have you had a medical problem, which you think might have been caused by one of the drugs you are prescribed – but doctors pooh – poohed any suggestion these might be the cause?

Recently Reuters Health reported  on a story released by Canadian researchers, saying that  “serious and sometimes life-threatening side effects often go unreported until years after cancer drugs have been approved”.  Reuters Health compiles serious analysises of medical research and treatment emanating from major studies.

For many patients, drugs are life-extending.  We wouldn’t have improved survival statistics if it wasn’t for these products.  However, a growing minority are experiencing side effects caused by these drugs – some of which are very nasty.

Sounds familiar?

When asked if they have experienced problems, for many cancer patients the answer will be a resounding yes.  Often   they have tried to get their medical team to listen if  they report  problems, but find it impossible to get them to even check if symptoms might – just might – be caused by a drug they were or are on.

If you have experienced problems, researchers from the University of Toronto have discovered, “within four years of approval, five of the 12 drugs they looked at had earned a “black box warning” from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which approves new medications”.

The research was led by Prof. Ian F. Tannock, who says  “it’s a warning to be very careful.,”  Tannock is an oncologist at the University of Toronto, and said “patients need to be informed that with a new agent there may be added risks.”

Tannock’s team examined so-called targeted therapies, a budding class of cancer drugs that work by interfering with specific molecules involved in tumor growth. Therefore it was expected that the medicines would be safer than traditional chemotherapy.

However, results questioned this assumption.  When questioned by Reuters Health, Dr. Thomas J. George commented, “it’s concerning to say the least. When we as oncologists prescribe new therapies we have to be on the constant lookout for side effects and outcomes that aren’t necessarily what the trials would have predicted,” added George, of the University of Florida.   (George was not involved in the study).

The new findings come in the wake of research showing that most trials of experimental cancer drugs report increases in at least one severe or life-threatening side effect.

So what about your experiences?

You might have had nasty problems, and wondered if these were caused by the drugs you were put on.  But when you ask your oncologist, they tell you, “I have never seen/heard of this before”.

But they need to be more vigilant, and keep up with what the researchers come up with.

After all, who would have connected carpal tunnel syndrome with a commonly-prescribed aromatase inhibitor?  Or heart problems, skin lesions, blindness, etc?  All symptoms that have recently been acknowledged as possibly been caused by drugs patients were taking.

Some of these horrid conditions may have had nothing to do with the drugs they were taking, but the medical profession needs to undertake more research and LISTEN to patients, before they dismiss their fears.  Most patients won’t challenge a doctor, but sadly they often need to do so.

Why does this happen?

According to the Reuters report, one reason why this can happen is that trials, which form the basis for FDA drug approval, might be too small for rare side effects to surface, or they include only highly select patients.

To help yourself, you can now point to this research, and other studies, and demand more investigation.

What happens in UK

In Britain, cancer survivors have long suspected that drugs they are on might cause problems, but with the limited average of ten minutes allocated for an NHS visit to an oncologist in Clinic, many don’t have time to discuss what might be causing these.  The solution is often the easy option of  “come off the drugs”.

This is not fair on the patient, who wants the reassurance that the drugs might help them to live longer.  But may well be a contributory factor to why, in Britain, our survival rates lag behind those of most European countries.  From personal experience, when I had nasty side effects, and had been told to “come off the drugs”, I didn’t.  Instead I went off to hospitals in France and Germany, where the side effects I experienced were well documented, and immediately the doctors to whom I spoke suggested clinically trialled solutions – which worked.

But this took time :  the doctors had to listen to me, examine me, take samples, swabs,  go through my medical notes, ask questions, etc.  in order to come up with a solution which worked.  This type of treatment is something that the NHS has less and less time to offer to patients.

Or the drug companies tell the patient to “fill in the Yellow Card”.  These are a fairly long form that the patient fills in, listing symptoms.  Patients will often have to phone round to get facts confirmed.  Once filled in, they are sent off – and that’s the last the patient hears.  When I phoned to ask what had happened to ‘my Yellow Card, I was told “because of Data Protection Act   we can’t tell you – even though you filled in the card.  So I gave up.

Solution would be to be more helpful to patients, and take a pro-active stance in investigating – but drug companies hide behind convenient rules and regulations, which mean that patients have the frustration of trying to find information, but coming up against brick walls. Then they are told to go back to their doctor – the very person who has originally dismissed their concerns and told them “I have never seen this before”, or similar statements.

Or else the solution means going to a major cancer centre in Europe get solutions.  But who can afford this every time?

Why does this happen?

Tannock says the problem is that very few doctors actually look at the labels. Instead, they stick with the published studies that led to the drug’s approval and first label.

Focusing only on drugs with updated labels, Tannock’s team found that half of the 76 serious side effects described in them hadn’t been on the initial label. Of potentially fatal side effects — such as blood clots, strokes and lung problems — that number was 58 percent.

“Many of the reports that led to the warnings did not come from published studies,” added Tannock, whose findings appear in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

So if you have unexplained side effect:

Print out report

1.  Take this to your Oncologist and/or CNS

2.  And don’t take no for an answer.

Background on Prof. Ian F. Tannock

Currently working for Ontario Cancer Institure, gained his PhD at Inst. Cancer Research UK in London etc.

If you Google him you come up with a lot of very interesting info, particularly his statement, “I have a long-standing interest in improving methods for undertaking clinical trials, and especially in use of endpoints such as quality-of-life that reflect patient benefit directly. We have applied these endpoints in clinical trials for patients with prostate and breast cancer, and are interested in the mechanisms by which chemotherapy may cause fatigue and cognitive dysfunction.

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New laws protect workers with cancer

Legislation offers protection to workers and carers affected by cancer

Often employees diagnosed with cancer will continue to work through treatment or after they have finished.  However, it can be difficult to return to work as one used to carry it out.

However, when it comes to obtaining the help you might need to return to work, there can be difficulties.  Sadly, less than 40% of people with cancer realise that they are protected by law against workplace discrimination.

Recently Macmillan have launched Working through Cancer campaign. This campaign aims to raise awareness of the Equality Act 2010, now in force.

The Equality Act 2010 and Cancer: How it affects you »

The Act contains new measures which extend protection for employees with cancer and, for example, a person caring for someone with cancer. It replaces the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) and applies to all employees in England, Scotland and Wales.

If this might be useful for you, contact Macmillan and as for their essential information about the Equality Act and cancer. The guide is called ‘The Equality Act 2010 and Cancer – How it affects you.’

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Andrew Lansley should listen to NHS staff – not waste time with consultations

LAKEWOOD, CO - AUGUST 21:  Terminally ill hosp...
Let’s have more hugs daylife

It doesn’t need a fortune to set NHS on right path

The most successful CEOs are those who listen – to the workforce and to customers. Something the politicians in charge of the NHS might do well to copy.

John Lewis is most popular company in public’s estimation.  Why?  Because when a customer complains, THEY LISTEN, and a boss  deals with the problem, not an overworked staff member.

Instead of trying to score political points which pass the average voter by, let the Dept. Health listen to those at the sharp end.

But Andrew Lansley (Minister of State for Health – in case you need reminding) seems to imagine the only way forward is by copying what his predessors did.  Currently he is wasting NHS money in re-inventing the wonky wheel, which was Labour’s contribution to the service.  Instead of sending out numerous emails (I received four yesterday) trumpeting ‘new initiatives’, perhaps he and all the others at the Dept. Health could sit back and see what the staff that actually deal with the public are saying?

When Granny isn’t fed – when a lung cancer patient is in pain because there are too few nurses to deal with wards at night – when a patient is discharged not knowing what is happening next and feeling abandoned, that’s where Lansley should be looking to see what could be improved – and nurses could surely tell him.  Lansley said he was putting patients first;   abolishing targets;  NHS funding was ‘ring fenced’ (that’s proving inaccurate!) etc.  etc.   And when one goes through to the press office, the same platitudes get trotted out and one gets the impression the person answering the query is purposely missing the point,  because the obvious isn’t being taken into account.

Nottingham is showing the way

When a nurse with years of experience emails to say “I am always eager to improve my knowledge”,   I sit up.   During the last decade the centre in Nottingham have done a lot to pioneered better care for patients, and I came in contact with very senior nurse who had emailed the comment above.  Then I  became interested in what she was doing, so asked her for more information.

Back came her answer,

“Yes, we are still doing the workshops with 3rd year student nurses at Nottm University School of Nursing at Queens Medical Centre. We have been doing them 4 times a year since 2002.  Latest were in October and November.

I am still a Registered Nurse and I did a diploma courses( ENB) in teaching Student Nurses and ENB in teaching student Midwives. I have also done ENB in Chemotherapy and Palliative Care Treatments,  Care of the Dying and Counselling in a Caring Relationship. Plus Pain and Symptom Management.

A colleague is Tutor XXXXXXX , whom she says became a member of the cancer support group in 2000.  “She is a GOD SEND”.

So I made contact with the Tutor, found that she had been invited to speak at numerous events, including a prestigious conference in Vancouver, Canada.

She is really keen to work out  “principles we have encouraged for patient and public involvement. Several people would like to meet up with us ? particularly those working in xxxx  on user involvement in research”.

So it would seem that Lansley and his team could well ask the two very senior staff to give them some advice.


If Lansley and his office got these and similar people to  work in their office, mightn’t this point the way to what was needed for better patient care, rather than all the expensive surveys, research etc. that is going on?  Or why not employ the 126 senior nurses, physios, OTs etc. that are threatened with ‘re-organisation’ in our area (we all know what that means).  We DON’T want to lose them, but if they could be seconded to DH, then I for one would feel the sacrifice was worthwhile.

In the meantime expensive equipment is still lying idle because shift patterns aren’t worked out properly;  money is pouring out the door with inefficiencies on Choose and Book (what a time wasting exercise that can be);  hospital switchboards have installed new equipment at vast expense, but never consulted staff to see what telephoning patterns really demand;  and Granny is still being neglected, poor thing.

Seasonal Present

Has anyone got copies of the TV series Gerry Robinson produced?  I seem to remember he interviewed many Consultants who had left the NHS because they were so frustrated at time and money-wasting that was going on.  In these PC-correct times,  could they please send the copies to Lansley as a Winterval present, so he can look at them and take note. Re-watching some of the series last week, what Robinson said is still pertinent, but still hasn’t been acted on, at least if the hospitals I go to are any indication.

But it’s the New Year – and I fully expect to see rows of gleaming new photo-copying machines in hospital corridors shortly – the teams that sell IT equipment will have made sure their rolling contracts are still operating.  Or can patients shame hospitals into refusing to order new machines?  Lovely thought!

As a New Year Resolution, keep Lansley happy – he says he wants to know what patients and staff think, but of course if you write directly to Dept. Health the letter more than likely won’t get a reply.  That’s the way Whitehall works (unless your name is Branson etc).  I did talk to one person once who had set up a charity in tragic circumstances, when a member of her family had had horrendous headline-grabbing problems.  Her one comment was, “now everyone, from Downing Street to Ministers, picks up the phone when I want an answer”.

But if you want an answer, you can write to Andrew Lansley, but send the email or letter via your MP and ask them to forward it and get an answer for you.  A Minister HAS to reply to an MP – and within three weeks – so this is best way to get attention.

And good luck!

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Getting back in saddle after cancer

Help from Thea Maxfield

Dressage rider Thea Maxfield,

whose rapid recovery from a broken neck recently received widespread coverage, has announced plans to offer training, with specific support for riders and horses recovering from injury or illness and seeking  a sympathetic approach.

Thea, 26, from Bicester believes that through empathy and care, riders lacking confidence or who just need additional support, can benefit from her first hand experience of getting back in the saddle.

“Returning to riding after surgery or illness is challenging both physically and emotionally,” says Maxfield. “Through my own experience of returning to riding seven months after breaking my neck, I can share my own ways of dealing with the return as well as helping people get more from their riding.”

Thea’s own return was made possible through extensive support from her family, friends, physiotherapist Don Gatherer and her own riding mentors. “The support was crucial to my own return and improving my riding. The lessons I learnt will be put to good use helping others.”

Where to find help

Thea will  host sessions at the fully-equipped Castle Grange Stud yard near Bicester as well as travelling to riders preferring to school at home.  “I can empathise with riders looking to take the first steps back to recovery and this often happens in a secure and known environment.”

A new website, provides an overview of the range of services including dressage schooling for younger riders and those aiming to improve their competitive performance.

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Italian readers have chance to take part in trials

Clinical Trials on Diet

patient discussion

Diet and nutrition project

OECI and IEO are collaborating together with FORTH to develop a demonstrator online for social networking amongst Italian cancer patients who want information about diet and nutrition.

Led by Patrizia Gnagnarella and Demos (Demosthenes Akoumianakis) and executed with the help of Professor De Lorenzo and the staff at FAVO (an Italian Cancer Charity encompassing 400+ patient support groups), it asks patients if they would like to take part in a clinical trial.

If yes, they are randomised to receive information about nutrition online, to the same information plus an invitation to an internet space where they can chat with other patients about diet problems and solutions.

All participants are monitored at baseline then after intervention (or not) by specialist online questionnaires.

More information :

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Doctor's Dog will see you now

Image via Wikipedia

Woof and a Lick is good therapy


Many countries have a version of ‘Pets as Therapy’ dogs, or PAT Dogs.  Now, they are being used as ‘assistants’ for doctors in America – can’t wait for us to copy.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a growing number of therapists are using “canine assistants” in their practices.  “Dogs are a nonjudgmental presence when patients get emotional or need the calming effect of petting an animal”.

You can even see a video: On the Couch With Gus the Shih Tzu  (http://

Diseases and allergies

For people who are allergic to animals, or hate dogs – this scheme is obviously a no-no.  But as PAT dogs prove, stroking an animal can have a calming effect on someone who is worried, and for children they will tell an animal many important things without grown-ups having to prompt them.  All PAT dogs have a bath before visiting hospitals and medical centres, much to their disgust, and although there are lots of stories of dogs carrying diseases, on the whole Elf n Safety seem relaxed about them – and PAT cats too.

Some people may remember the Border Terriers Nigel – and then Miles – that belonged to David Brown, the Chaplain at the Royal Marsden.  One of the happiest interviews I ever wrote up was talking to a patient at the Sutton branch of this hospital.  She told me that when her cancer returned, she didn’t want to know anyone and turned her head to the wall, refusing to talk .

 One day Nigel was trotting by David’s side, but suddenly ran off up a corridor, and nosed his way into a room. He knew he wasn’t allowed to do this, but when David peeped round the door, Nigel was being cuddled by this patient, and as she told me, “Nigel gave me the will to live”.

Gus, the ‘Psychiatrist’

But now, in New York, The Wall Street Journal reports, “Walk into psychiatrist Drew Ramsey’s office in Manhattan and you’ll likely be greeted by Gus, a four-year-old shih tzu. After escorting you through the waiting room, he may hop onto the ottoman and go to sleep or sit beside you on the couch”.

Therapists use ‘canine assistants’ to comfort and cheer up their patients. WSJ’s Christina Tsuei sees how psychiatrist Drew Ramsey teams up with his four-year-old shih tzu Gus.

Some patients pat Gus while they talk to Dr. Ramsey. A few talk to Gus instead. And if they get emotional, Gus provides physical comfort that therapists can’t offer. “We can’t hug patients, but patients can hug Gus,” says Dr. Ramsey, who began bringing his dog to his office two years ago. Now, he says, “I think about Gus the way a cowboy thinks of his horse—he’s part of the job.”

A small but growing number of psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers and other therapists are bringing their dogs to work in their private practices, where they help calm patients down, cheer them up and offer a happy distraction with a wagging tail. The job is similar to what therapy dogs do when they visit at hospitals or nursing homes, but these “canine therapy-assistants” often work full days and get to know the patients just as well as the doctors.

Australian research

Research in Australia shows that people who own dogs live longer;  no-one knows if it is the health benefits of ‘walkies’ that contribute, or the companionship of a non-judgemental animal – but the research is there.  Stroking a pet dog decreases cortisol, the stress hormone, in both the human and the dog. It also increases prolactin and oxytocin, hormones that govern nurturing and security, as well as serotonin and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters that boost mood. One study found that five minutes with a dog was as relaxing as a 20-minute break for hospital staffers.

“It’s chemical, not magical,” says Rebecca Johnson, who teaches a popular course in animal-human interaction at the University of Missouri and has conducted much of the research.

Recent stories in the media have shown so many incidents where children, dementia patients and others have opened up when ‘talking’ to a dog, where they have been silent and withdrawn before.  While there are no set requirements for having an animal assistant, most dogs who work with doctors have been trained in obedience and as therapy dogs.
Doctors are also using dogs when treating disorders such as autism, attention-deficit/hyperactive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Learning to walk and interact with the pets helps the kids learn to maintain focus, eye contact and communication. “With some children, I use the dog as an external form of biofeedback,” to help them learn to regulate their behavior, says Dr. Fine, who edited the “Handbook on Animal-Assisted Therapy,” a key textbook in the field.
“You never have a problem getting a child to go see Dr. Fine—they want to go,” says Velene Lima, whose daughter, Angela, now 24, has been a patient since infancy, when a brain tumor left her with multiple challenges. “She would be bouncing off the wall when she was young, but with Dr. Fine, she’d be calm. Those dogs mean everything to her.
.Read more

As you probably realise, I like Dogs!  And have written two quirky books about them, with lots of anecdotes especially about working dogs.

 About the Border Terrier – includes a chapter on Nigel, known as the ‘Doctor Dog’ at The Royal Marsden, with his owner – the hospital Chaplain.  Buy from 

999 and other working dogs  

I had the greatest fun writing this book, as interviewing the subjects took me to many different countries.  I wrote about the working breeds, that have helped man through the centuries, and today are still working hard.

Those on the cover are official water rescue dogs, who jump out of helicopters to rescue drowning swimmers, or tow yachts to safety. 

Assistance dogs – without whom many disabled people would not be able to live near-normal lives;  Flock guards – who work differently from sheepdogs, and fiercely guard their flocks from wolves, all on their own;  Mascots – beloved of the Army;  Police Dogs, who are to be seen all over the world, and started in Belgium;  Sled dogs; ‘sniff and smell’ dogs who suss out drug smuggling, identify cancer, etc.   and the incredible avalanche and  mountain rescue dogs, – and why there is no longer a place for St. Bernards in their teams.  $29.95  or from Amazon if you deal in Euros/pounds 

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