The British Oncology Pharmacy Association has put together advice for community pharmacists (see panel) on support for cancer patients during the Covid-19 pandemic, and is offering free access to its resources to support the pharmacy effort.
BOPA says that patients who are currently receiving, or have recently completed cancer treatment are in the vulnerable group and need to self-isolate. Among the extremely vulnerable who will need to take additional precautions are people:
To "support our pharmacy colleagues during the Covid-19 pandemic", BOPA has also created a free membership category allowing access to its website, including its general forum (enabling questions to be answered by oncology pharmacists), e-learning modules and other resources, for three months. Register here.
The Association also recommends Cancer Research UK's One Cancer Voice "Advice on Coronavirus for people with cancer" information leaflet.
My patient is worried about continuing their cancer treatment – what should I advise?
Patients should be reassured that hospitals (private and NHS) will aim to continue to provide cancer treatments as normal, however, treatment plans may be altered to reduce the risk of the patient being hospitalised during the pandemic. Alterations include changing treatment doses, offering breaks or offering oral treatment; these decisions will be made by the clinical team on assessment of risks and benefits of treatment, factoring in the additional risk of Covid-19 infection.
If patients are uncertain about continuing with their treatment, they should be encouraged to contact their cancer team (usually via their clinical nurse specialist) who will be happy to discuss their options. Telephone or video consultations in place of clinic appointments, and arranging for oral cancer treatments to be delivered to the patient’s home or collected, for example from hospital car parks, are ways to avoid unnecessary visits to the hospital. These strategies are recommended by NICE.
What else can I do to help?
As patients reduce their hospital visits they may run short of supportive medicines and need to obtain supplies via their GP and community pharmacy. Community pharmacies can help supply anti-emetics, mouthcare preparations, emollients, antibiotics and steroids via home delivery where possible. If you have any queries about medicines prescribed for cancer patients, contact the pharmacy department of their treating hospital.
Patients should be advised to discard outer packaging and wash their hands with soap and water after receiving a delivery. Macmillian Cancer Support's information on management of side effects and symptoms can be found here.