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Consulting Breast Nurse
Dr Victoria Harmer is a Macmillan breast care Consultant nurse at Imperial College NHS Trust. She manages 9 nurse specialists and is heavily involved in service delivery and improvement for both the screening and symptomatic breast services.
My name is Vickki and I am head of nursing for breast services – for those seen from GP’s with lumps and bumps (symptomatic) and also for breast screening (3 yearly mammograms for 50-70 years old’s). I lead a team of breast nurse specialists – we are in clinics where people are diagnosed with breast cancer, giving information and support to them and their families throughout treatment – usually starting with surgery, but also potentially chemotherapy, radiotherapy and plastic surgery; walking alongside patients as a constant. One woman said we were her satnav –helping guide her. We are also here for anyone with non-cancer breast issues, and I run a nipple tattoo clinic for those with breast reconstructions.
I am also in charge of service improvements, trying to think how to serve you better. Every October (breast cancer awareness month) we give talks to businesses, prisons and schools to spread the word, and I teach nurses in and outside the hospital, and publish articles each year. This helps keep ‘breasts’ on the map.
The number of people who asked to be seen took a nosedive during the pandemic – some were frightened to come along or go to GPs, maybe in case they caught the virus and brought it home to loved ones, or some didn’t want to add to our work … we like to see all with issues, so are delighted people are returning. We had to think fast, so to be safe, we stopped much surgery and chemotherapy, although we carried on diagnosing people with breast cancer.
What measures have been taken to resume services and make sure they are safe?
We have taken all sorts of measures to make sure both staff and patients walking through our doors are safe. At the entrance to the hospital there is a station where you are given a mask, and required to gel your hands – much like some shops are doing. We are also asking that people come alone to their appointments, so less people are about . We have adjusted numbers of people we see in clinics, and distanced the chairs in waiting areas. The area is cleaned down at the start and throughout the day – really thoroughly with medical quality wipes and products. All the staff wear masks and there are plastic see-through panels at the reception desks – much like in supermarkets. The cafes, hospital shops and restaurants are open still, but have limits on how many can be in there at one time, and chairs are spaced out if you want to sit and have your drink in the public areas.
If you are seen in the clinic, the healthcare professional will be in PPE, and the examination couch cleaned. If you need a scan, the equipment will also be wiped down in between use. We have gained confidence on how to work things during this unusual time, so do ask if you have worries or concerns.
What advice would you give to people who are waiting to hear about delayed appointments or worried about visiting their breast clinic?
I’d say please pop along to see us with confidence. We know what we are doing – we have been working with this virus and open throughout and so have got a bit of a handle on what to do. The staff are friendly and eager to meet you and hope to put you at ease, maybe perform a few tests on you – a physical examination (with chaperone), and ultrasound if needed (mammograms (x-ray of the breast) are usually saved for older people as they do not show much in younger, denser breasts). We are pretty clued up about what to do and how to act.
What we are trying to suss is smiling with face masks on – making our eyes smile! You can help us with that if you want! If you are waiting to hear from us, we usually see people within two weeks of their GP referral. If you haven’t heard, then do follow this up – we are getting back to normal now – in fact back to better!
We have recently created a video about breast pain. Pain is a common experience and is usually due to monthly cycles. Please check out the video below as it may be useful. For anyone worried about visiting their breast clinic, please come and say hi – we look forward to seeing you.
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