New head and neck nurse specialist for KGH

New head and neck nurse specialist Hayley Steptoe with patient George Rippin
New head and neck nurse specialist Hayley Steptoe with patient George Rippin

Kettering General Hospital has taken on its first head and neck cancer nurse specialist to support patients with cancers of the mouth, throat and thyroid.

Hayley Steptoe has worked at KGH for the past 14 years in a variety of roles, including staff nurse and sister.

She has taken on the new role, from June 5, to strengthen the hospital’s support for patients with head and neck cancers.

She had also been working closely with patients in the run-up to the new role being designed and formalised.

Hayley said: “I am delighted that Kettering General Hospital has developed this new role which will help to improve care and support for patients who are diagnosed with cancers of the mouth, throat and thyroid.

“At the moment all patients with these cancers are treated in a specialist unit at Northampton General Hospital.

“But their investigations, diagnosis and follow-up appointments are at KGH.

“My job will be to support patients through their diagnosis and help them to understand what treating their cancer will involve.

“Often this is complex and could involve a variety treatments such as chemotherapy/radiotherapy and surgery.”

Each year there are about 100 new patients with head and neck cancers diagnosed at KGH.

In addition there are dozens of patients with re-occurrences of cancer and hundreds having routine follow-up checks.

Previously head and neck cancer patients would have seen a consultant at KGH but would not have had specialist nursing support.

Now Hayley can provide that.

She said: “I will be seeing all new patients and appropriate follow-up patients during normal working hours 8.30am to 5pm Monday to Friday.

“I advise patients about their condition, and support them, and their families, in decisions about treatment options.

“I also provide emotional support at what can be a very traumatic and life changing event for patients and their families.

“Head and neck cancers can lead to some quite drastic surgery and disfigurement of the face.

“Patients also sometimes need to understand how to use feeding tubes and how to breath and speak through valves in their windpipes (tracheostomy).

“A lot of the information and advice I give is very specialist and it something that we haven’t been able to provide before.

“For example in a major case a patient could be in surgery for up to 12 hours, would then spend 24 to 48 hours in intensive care and two weeks on a specialist ward at Northampton General Hospital.

“Next they would normally be discharged home.

“I would be available to give telephone advice and then face-to-face support once they come back for a follow-up clinic at Kettering General Hospital’s outpatients department.”

Director of nursing and quality Leanne Hackshall said: “Like a number of other clinical nurse specialist roles, Hayley’s new post provides expertise and enables a bridge between the medical and nursing teams.

“This ensures that patients are cared for and listened to as individuals with care effectively coordinated to deliver it in a timely manner.”

A patient who has benefited from Hayley’s support has described how she has helped him.

George Rippin, 65, from Market Harborough, was diagnosed with a carcinoma on his tongue in March this year (2017).

He said: “It started as a small ulcer on my tongue and I was referred to hospital for a biopsy and then had an operation to remove it on April 4 at Northampton General Hospital.

“I was in hospital for 12 days in Northampton and had my first outpatient appointment at KGH on June 27 – so I have been one of the first patients to benefit from Hayley’s support.

“This was a real shock to me.

“I don’t drink or smoke so it came out of the blue.

“Hayley has been fantastic.

“She was very reassuring and calm and, along with my consultant, Mr Colin Harrop, has helped explain everything that was going to happen both before my operation and since.

“This was very involved.

“I had to have an MRI scan, CT scan, blood tests, and a tracheostomy before my operation.

“During my operation I had to have skin, artery and vein taken from my forearm and transplanted on to my tongue to replace the tissue lost when the cancer was taken out.

“It all had to be plumbed in and my lymph gland removed as well.

“Hayley has been there throughout to support me.

“I think creating the new role to support head and neck cancer patients is fantastic.

“The treatments for these kinds of cancers can be quite complicated and involved and it is very important to have someone who is positive and supportive and can respond to any concerns you may have.”