Cancer Care West helped 2,500 people affected by cancer through the pandemic in 2020

There is no doubt that 2020 was a challenging year for everyone and, as highlighted in their recently launched 2020 Annual Report, Cancer Care West was no exception. Documenting the exceptional year, the charity highlighted their efforts to keep their most vital services open so anxious and isolated cancer sufferers had a place to go, especially when many other services were closed.

This required a significant amount of adaption and flexibility from their staff, working with their partners and government agencies. More importantly, it also required significant flexibility from the 2,500 patients who used the charity’s services during the year and who have been most severely affected by the pandemic.

The charity’s main priority was to keep patients, staff and volunteers safe while on their premises. This was especially challenging at Inis Aoibhinn, their residential facility for radiotherapy patients. Despite the challenges, the service ran at full capacity in 2020 accommodating 320 patients with no transmission of COVID-19 on site, a massive success considering the risks involved.

During the year the charity turned their facility, which is located on the hospital grounds, over to the Saolta Group and it was used to provide 220 bed nights for HSE front line staff during the pandemic The Harbour Hotel generously provided alternative accommodation for the patients and staff and ensured no break in service during their five weeks residency.


The charity’s second priority was to redesign their portfolio of support services and how they were delivered in line with pandemic guidelines. The charity particularly highlights the speed with which everyone adapted to the technology involved and that in their experience the technology was age and gender agnostic, with some young people preferring the phone while many of the older generation were highly experienced Zoom users.

As a result, the charity’s three core services of oncology information and advice; psychological counselling; and rehab and survivorship courses were all delivered remotely and face-to-face during 2020, augmented by online classes in mindfulness, yoga and relaxation.

Other methods of reaching patients were trialled and found successful including patient webinars and live streamed public talks. In total, between the two support centres in Galway and Letterkenny, 1,650 people affected by cancer had over 8,000 interactions with Cancer Care West cancer support specialists, with over 80% of these provided remotely.

Important to the charity also was the adaption of fundraising efforts to the virtual world where, thanks to the world of social media, many people were able to raise funds without leaving their homes, or when they did the activities took place in line with the various restrictions. A total of €1.165m was raised, through voluntary fundraising and donations in 2020, a staggering amount given the extraordinary time. As Cancer Care West relies on fundraising for over three quarters of their income this effort was critical to their success in 2020.

One of the key highlights for the charity in 2020 was the development of the CUBS programme which supports children whose parent has died from cancer. The programme was developed by two of Cancer Care West’s clinical psychologists, Dr Mairead Brennan and Dr Cathy O’Sullivan. It is an eight-week course that aims to give children the language and skills needed to navigate the death of a parent from cancer. The programme, like all of Cancer Care West’s services, will be offered free of charge to all participants.

Remote counselling

A second highlight saw Cancer Care West deliver a remote counselling service on a national basis to cancer patients who were experiencing significant levels of distress. This service was provided in collaboration with the National Cancer Control Programme (NCCP ) and over 75 patients availed of it during the year.

Commenting on the report Richard Flaherty CEO of Cancer Care West stated that it highhlighted the extraordinary efforts their team made to ensure services continued throughout the year.

“They did this while making sure that all patients and staff remained safe. As many other oncology support services were closed for the majority of the year, our ability to reach patients was a lifeline for them and was deeply appreciated by everyone who contacted us.

“And once again, but even more heartfelt than ever, we pay tribute to our loyal supporters who stepped up to the challenge and found new ways to generate the much-needed funds on which we rely.”

Dr Helen Greally, Director of Support Services at Cancer Care West said that at Cancer Care West, they witnessed at first-hand the toll the pandemic was taking on cancer patients and their families, with patients more isolated, scared and extremely anxious about their condition.

“While it was a very challenging year, it was also a very rewarding one where we learned a lot about our ability to adapt and be flexible in the face of a global crisis. Going forward we will now offer a hybrid support model, mainly providing in-person support, but able to provide remote support, when necessary, an enhancement that is welcomed by many,” she concluded.


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