In the latest episode of our ‘In conversation with…’ series, we spoke to UK-based Consultant Breast and Reconstructive Surgeons Ms. Siobhan Laws and Mrs. Rosie Stanton, as well as Associate Specialist Radiologist Dr. Nadia Uraiqat, all from the Hampshire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. Between them they operate across two separate sites – Basingstoke and Winchester – with differing facilities.
As early adopters of the Magtrace® lymphatic tracer and Magseed® marker, these sites were already working towards a more efficient treatment pathway before the pandemic began.
However, they revealed how COVID-19 has accelerated further innovation in their centres and why open communication has helped their team thrive.
As soon as the pandemic began, there was huge cooperation to get ‘COVID-ready’, Rosie explained. Behaving as “one organism”, everyone across the hospital worked together to make changes.
First, breast cancer surgery was moved to the private sector. Waiting rooms were then transformed to allow social distancing. Surgeries were sterilised, while local schools made 700 Perspex visors to help keep patients and hospital staff safe. “I’m flabbergasted by how well people have adapted to this” Siobhan told us.
“We had to go from having a fully functional breast unit to having it – pretty much the next day – in another place.”
This time last year, a typical patient would have to attend “many, many, many appointments”, Rosie told us. All the procedures, preparation and check-ins could easily add up to “ten, eleven or twelve appointments”.
But COVID-19 meant cutting the number of face to face appointments down. They were forced to halt screening, as well as reconstructive surgery and switched to telephone consultations where possible. Finally, they worked to limit the need for patients to move between different sites for treatment.
Like many centers in the UK, the Winchester site has no nuclear facilities. Fortunately, with the help of the Magtrace® lymphatic tracer, they can continue to accurately stage their patients, allowing entire treatments to be carried out at just one site.
This wasn’t only transformative from a medical or scheduling point of view. For patients, not attending several appointments at different hospitals was a huge relief.
“Once you’ve scheduled patients using Magseed and Magtrace, you never want to go back. I never want to go back to having people going to other hospitals.
Going along corridors, having localisations in the middle of my operating list. It is so much nicer forgetting all that.”
Hampshire Hospitals had experience in using Magseed® and Magtrace® before COVID-19 began. However, having to adapt quickly to change how where and how they treat this patients has allowed them to push surgical innovation further.
Siobhan said they soon came to a collective protocol for marking the breast lesions with Magseed® and injecting Magtrace® two weeks ahead of surgery. This allows their patients to self-isolate before surgery and, after having tested negative in a COVID-19 swab test, ensure they are not having going under anaesthesia with the virus.
“Life is different but to reduce some of these barriers to innovation has been game-changing."
Looking back on the past few months, Rosie said the experience has been “exhausting”.
Now that the rate of the virus has slowed in their area, Hampshire Hospitals are taking stock to prepare for what comes next. “It’s going to be an ongoing process,” she added, as “more changes are clearly coming”.
Whether there is a change in protocol, or a second wave, Hampshire Hospitals is committed to carrying on doing what it does best. Their adoption of Magseed® and Magtrace® has allowed them to offer their patients much wider treatment options over the past few months than they otherwise would have.
“We have been treating breast cancer here for many, many, many years and we are determined to keep doing that as safely as possible.”