Cancer care: the rural challenges

People with a cancer diagnosis living in rural Wales face particular challenges when it comes to accessing treatment. Macmillan Development Manager Alun Tandy’s blog explores the problems they may face and the solutions that Macmillan in Wales are developing to meet these obstacles.


© Marc Llewelyn Jones

There’s no denying that Wales boasts some of the most stunning countryside in the world – attracting visitors from near and far. Our scenery is truly one of the great benefits of living in Wales.

But despite its obvious assets, a life in rural Wales can come with drawbacks.  Namely, the potential for isolation, poor access to broadband and the need to travel long distances for certain goods and services.

For people affected by cancer living in Wales’ rural communities these challenges can be amplified at a time when the need to access care and support is greatest.

We know that people’s cancer journey can span a number of healthcare settings. People may travel to different sites for their radiotherapy, chemotherapy or surgery, depending on the type and stage of their cancer. Although many people benefit from the social interaction that this may bring – the burden of travel can be considerable.

It is important that people receive timely financial advice following a cancer diagnosis .To ease this added pressure we’ve worked hard to raise awareness of the Macmillan Support Line ( 0808 808 00 00 Monday to Friday, 9am–8pm). We’ve also placed Macmillan Welfare Benefit Advisers in community and hospital settings.

Increased travel costs and energy bills as a result of treatment is the reality for many patients. In rural communities ensuring that this advice is easily accessible and understandable is vital.

The use of telemedicine has seen progress made in overcoming some challenges. For example, in 2015 Macmillan invested £250k to improve treatment and support for people with head and neck cancer in South West and Mid Wales.


Sali Curtis, Macmillan Speech and Language Therapist interacting with patients

One project this has supported is the creation of a telemedicine clinic at Aberaeron Hospital where patients are able to videoconference with Macmillan speech and language therapists at Singleton Hospital in Swansea.

We also have a role, as a charity in reaching out to rural communities – and over the years we have had great success at the Royal Welsh Show. This has been pivotal to raising our profile among rural communities, and subsequently raising awareness of cancer in rural Wales.


Alun Tandy with Lady Ambassador for Gwent Hannah Barry (Left) at the Mobile Information and Support Service bus at the Royal Welsh Show 2015

Our mobile support unit provides people within a friendly and relaxed environment to discuss their concerns with our information and support specialists. In addition, in recent years, our Macmillan skin cancer nurse specialists and other Macmillan professionals have come to the show to tell visitors about their work and chat through concerns.

The concentration of older people living in rural Wales poses its own challenges.

Older people make a considerable economic and social value to society but the increasing complexity of conditions during later life provides its own challenge.

End of life care in rural settings requires expert coordination between hospital and community care teams. Advanced care planning as a tool to facilitate this is vital in ensuring that wherever possible, a person can die in a setting most desirable to them. And often, we know this is at home.

Cancer care is changing for the better in Wales – and it is the experiences and expertise of patients that is driving these developments, as Macmillan and our health board and local authority partners work together to improve services.

We’re raising the profile of cancer, investing resources and offsetting the impact of some of the challenges facing people affected by cancer within more rural settings is paving the way to better serving these communities.

If you have any questions about cancer talk to our Support Line on 0808 808 0000 (open Monday to Friday 9am to 8pm) or visit our website for information and support.













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