Psychosocial Support for Patients With Cancer Waning as COVID-19 Pandemic Continues

August 24, 2020

A recent survey showed the disruption in cancer care as a result of the pandemic is worrying professionals who provide psychosocial support to patients.

As the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic continues around the globe, a look into how the crisis is impacting patients with cancer finds that their psychosocial needs are not being met.

To see how disruption in cancer care as a result of the pandemic has impacted the psychosocial support of patients with cancer, researchers from the United Kingdom surveyed 94 psychosocial oncology professionals from across the field, who outlined several concerns.

Throughout the survey, the professionals highlighted the profound impact of the suspension of face-to-face consultations, with a reported drop in the number of patients referred to psychosocial services and with care now being delivered remotely by telephone or video calls, or being suspended entirely in some regions. The change in care delivery “will have unmapped and unknown effects,” noted one respondent.

“Moving psychosocial support to remote delivery, and in some cases suspending it all together, has proven to be difficult to staff to deliver and has resulted in the needs of patients affected by cancer not being met,” explained Jo Armes,PhD, MSc, BSc, RGN, Reader in Cancer Care and Lead for Digital Health at the University of Surrey, and study author, in a statement.

The professionals expressed concern over remote services leading to longer wait times and the usual care not being as effective as usual, as well as these services making it more difficult to complete assessments as there is no existing relationship, making it harder to form a therapeutic alliance.

The lack of face-to-face consultations are also leaving patients—who already face anxiety related to a cancer diagnosis or living with cancer—with a heightened sense of distress due to a lack of face-to-face consultations, potentially creating an increased need for psychological support, according to the survey results.

Many respondents expressed worry over the psychosocial needs of these patients not being met and that when the pandemic ends there will be an “avalanche of demand.”

“With the full magnitude of the impact of COVID-19 yet to be realised in cancer care, more hurdles are undoubtedly on the horizon,” warned the researchers. However, they did note that some respondents identified several silver linings in the shift of care.

These included the flexibility of working from home, as well as being able to now assist patients who were previously unable to make the trip to their office due to distance and illness.

Reference

Archer S, Holch P, Armes J, et al. “No turning back” psycho-oncology in the time of COVID-19: insights from a survey of UK professionals. Psychooncology. Published online July 20, 2020. doi: 10.1002/pon.5486.