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Volunteer led service to provide complementary therapies for cancer patients and carers

The aim of the project was to provide complementary therapies for cancer patients and carers of cancer patients before, during and after treatment through establishing and operating a volunteer led service

North Bristol NHS Trust (NBT) led a project to establish and operate a volunteer led service providing a range of complementary therapies for cancer patients and their carers before, during and after treatment as part of our wider programme of cancer survivorship activities.

The intention was to develop a robust framework to support qualified practitioners to provide complementary therapies safely and appropriately.

North Bristol NHS Trust NGS Macmillan Wellbeing Centre opened in September 2014.  Part of the strategic aim was for the service to be offered to any adult patients with cancer and carers of cancer patients under the care of NBT.  Cancer patients who are not registered with the Trust will be accepted with the consent of their Consultant, GP or Clinical Nurse Specialist. Patients and carers will be offered a programme of four to six complementary sessions per year at no cost.

The objectives were to:

  1. Develop and deliver a tailor–made training programme designed to prepare the volunteer therapists to understand and more effectively meet the needs of cancer patients and their carers in the delivery of therapies
  2. Recruit a number of volunteer trained complementary therapists with an existing a range of skills and expertise (within their field of competency).
  3. Train the volunteers to enable them to provide therapies to cancer patients
  4. Select dedicated trainers to develop and deliver the training programme
  5. Develop appropriate staff to oversee the service on a day to day basis
  6. Provide oversight and management of service development, review and evaluation by a dedicated project manager and the NBT Cancer Services Management Team
  7. Disseminate the outcomes of the project to a wider audience both locally and nationally

NBT aim to utilise existing expertise and staff to facilitate development of training materials and to oversee the running of this initiative, therefore training was developed and delivered by their in-house education/training day/workshop “Cancer Awareness & Adaptions for Complementary Therapies”. The course was delivered to 17 trained and accredited therapists in February 2016.  The course received backing and support from Macmillan Cancer Support. This again was very successful and well received and resulted in recruitment of 20 Therapists providing free complementary therapy to patients and their families. Naturally these numbers decreased over time as the volunteers had other commitments.

A further in–house workshop was held in September 2016, which again was a success with more therapist recruitments and we now have 19 regular Complementary Therapists providing the service.

During the project, Carol Chapman, Lead Cancer Nurse at NBT said: 

Our project is progressing to plan. We have already run a tailored training programme delivered by an experienced trainer and have recruited a number of volunteer therapists who have started provided complementary therapies at the Wellbeing Centre. We are in the process of designing our own programme and aim to hold our next training session in January.

The project was completed in December 2016.


Following a review of the project, the following achievements, benefits and lessons were identified:

Key areas of achievements:

  • Successful implementation of complementary therapies at the NGS Macmillan Wellbeing Centre at Southmead Hospital.
  • Development and delivery of their own in-house education/training day/workshop “Cancer Awareness & Adaptions for Complementary Therapies” with backing and support from Macmillan Cancer Support.
  • 190 Volunteer Therapists providing regular free complementary therapy to patients and their families.

Impact of change in work area:

Introduction of therapies increased the workload of the staff and volunteers at the centre but with huge benefits to the service the Trust providing support to patients diagnosed with cancer.  As a result a complementary Therapy co-ordinator was employed as part of the project for a 6 month period with an aim on making this post substantive.

Overall cost and post project plans:

The project was made possible by the dedication and enthusiasm of the staff within the centre and volunteers.  Additional costs not included in the project budget were management time and support from cancer services.  The overall budget enabled the team to establish and deliver a training programme and set up the service as well as support us to continue for a further six months to make the service sustainable and business case to the Trust for additional administrative support.  In the longer term, the aim was that the programme would become self-sustaining through trust support and income generation.

Benefits identified:

Project goals were achieved with overwhelmingly positive feedback with patients reporting:

  • A better quality of life and health outcomes;
  • A reduction in anxiety levels and improvement in their ability to manage their illness and cope with treatment.

Although difficult to measure, there are also potential benefits to the health community including:

  • Reduced hospital admissions/re-admission before, during and post treatment leading to better health outcomes as well as cost savings;
  • Reduced need for visits to GPs and support needed from other health and care providers as a result of a reduction in emotional and physical stress associated with cancer.

Having a co-ordinator in post helped with the smooth running of the service.

Lessons learned:

Went well:

  • Successful establishment of in-house workshop programme.
  • Recruitment of dedicated volunteer therapists.
  • Dedicated project manager with allocated time for development.
  • Recruitment of a coordinator for 6 months to run the day to day operations and bookings of service appointments.

What went less well:

  • The commitment required for overseeing and delivering the complementary therapies has been more than anticipated with a lot of administration.
  • Recommendations for future projects.
  • Dedicated project management time and senior management support.
  • Adequate administrative time.
  • A clear plan and well developed and tested tools.


For more information, please contact Carol Chapman.

This Page was last updated on: 21 July 2017

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