Case Studies

Supporting people affected by cancer during COVID-19

Section: MembershipThe ALLIANCEType: Case Study
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Macmillan Cancer Support's Volunteering Hub has adapted its services to support people affected by cancer during the pandemic.

Macmillan Cancer Support’s Volunteering Hub at Glasgow Life provides services across a number of areas in Glasgow and beyond for people affected by cancer. With around 130 volunteers delivering information and support in libraries in Glasgow and West Dunbartonshire, and at the Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow, along with the Volunteer Driver scheme, delivered in partnership with Glasgow City Council’s Improving the Cancer Journey, volunteers are at the heart of the services provided.

With services primarily based on face to face support, the Macmillan Volunteering Hub took swift action when it became apparent that COVID-19 was presenting a risk. Prior to lockdown face to face volunteering was ceased to protect the health of volunteers, many of whom are elderly and/or in the shielding category. Ensuring the wellbeing of volunteers is core to the Volunteering Hub’s COVID-19 strategy. Support to volunteers is being provided over the phone and via email outputs such as ‘Wellbeing Wednesday’ mail outs and links to useful resources. Keeping lines of communication open is key and the Hub has simply built on its existing support mechanisms to continue to engage with people.

In terms of providing support to those who would have been accessing face to face services, the Hub has increased its phone and online support to enable people to continue to receive the help they need. This support includes access to benefits checks and Macmillan grants, reflecting essential needs that continue during the pandemic. It also allows for in depth support which prior to COVID-19 helped people who might not have the confidence to attend face to face appointments. However, requests for support, so far, have decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a trend that Craig Menzies, Macmillan Programme Manager, acknowledges is worrying: “There’s concern from us as a team that people are putting their concerns on hold around cancer and focusing on the day to day COVID-19 worries, so that’s superseded what people are worrying about”.

In order to increase awareness around services still on offer and to encourage contact, social media has been key. In addition, Macmillan Cancer Support services have pulled together in a united front so that people can easily access a variety of available offerings by calling the central Macmillan Support Line. However, reiterating concerns around people perhaps not putting concerns around cancer at the forefront of their minds are the figures published on the drop in attendance at GP surgeries. Craig’s main concerns are that people are not evaluating their health as normal and that they are scared to present at their GP practice due to infection risk. This is why visibility of messaging through social media and other channels including the press are key.

An innovative approach to engagement has been taken through the NHS Inform Scotland’s Service Directory. Not only does this provide a platform on which people can find local services but, going one step further, Macmillan Cancer Support has added a ‘click to connect’ button. This allows people to refer to services easily online whereby they receive a phone call within two working days. The main purpose of this is to break down barriers, especially where people might feel nervous or uneasy about making that first phone call themselves, hopefully encouraging people to engage with services.

A key group that the Volunteering Hub wants to reach are those currently being treated for cancer. People are seeing treatment plans and surgeries delayed due to COVID-19 with Craig reporting that there are concerning outcomes of this: “That brings along more anxiety, stress, worry and helplessness so we are expecting a significant increase in people’s needs. We’re trying to ensure people are aware of what’s available to them to try to tackle this now, as opposed to it getting to crisis point later.”

Supporting people with a cancer diagnosis through COVID-19 is presenting challenges around engagement with services when people may be preoccupied with concerns around the virus and shielding. However the Volunteering Hub team have acted swiftly to increase visibility of services and to continue to support their own volunteers at a difficult time, showing once again the agility and commitment so prevalent in the third sector’s response to COVID-19.

To find out the latest guidance for individuals with cancer, please visit the Macmillan website (this link will take you away from our website), or if you wish to find out more about the Macmillan Volunteering Hub, please visit us here (this link will take you away from our website) or get in touch via or 0141 287 2903.


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