Psychosocial Oncology Professionals Report Severe Disruptions in Care Due to COVID-19

August 20, 2020

Results from a survey of psychosocial oncology professionals suggested that “there are significant ongoing concerns about funding and how services and research activity will be maintained in coming months and years.”

Survey results published in Psycho-Oncology found that psychosocial oncology professionals reported severe disruptions in delivering clinical and supportive care to individuals affected by cancer and associated research activity as a result of the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.1

In addition, survey respondents also reported concerns that the full impact of the pandemic has not yet been realized. Given these results, researchers indicated it is imperative that cancer organizations work together to adapt and promote psycho-oncology activity to maximize benefit for patients and professionals in the long-term.

"Receiving a cancer diagnosis or living with cancer can be both physically and mentally devastating to a patient and their families. Feelings of depression and anxiety are common which negatively impacts their overall wellbeing,” study author Jo Armes, PhD, MSc, BSc, RGN, reader in Cancer Care and lead for Digital Health at the University of Surrey, said in a press release.2

"Moving psychosocial support to remote delivery, and in some cases suspending it all together, has proven to be difficult for staff to deliver and has resulted in the needs of patients affected by cancer not being met,” Armes continued. “Due to the current pandemic this has unfortunately been unavoidable but it is important that we learn from this experience and see what works well for patients and what doesn't so that plans can be put in place to deal with similar situations in the future."

The survey was administered via QUALTRICS between May 19, 2020 and June 2, 2020 to 94 UK based professionals working in the field of psychosocial oncology, including 47 (50%) individuals based in the clinical setting, 33 (35%) in the academic setting, 10 (11%) in the third sector, and 4 (4%) in another setting. The survey included brief demographic items, as well as 9 COVID-19 focused questions.

Overall, an abundance of concerns were identified by the researchers regarding suspension of face-to-face delivery of care to those affected by cancer. Notably, care is now being delivered remotely by staff at home or, in some regions, is being suspended entirely.

Survey respondents also reported a decline in the number of patients referred to psychosocial services and expressed concern about what the impact of delays in accessing care could possibly have on patients. Moreover, the use of telephone or video calls to complete assessments within this patient population was also found to be more difficult, especially if there was no previously existing relationship with the provider, making it harder to form a therapeutic alliance.

Furthermore, respondents indicated that a lack of face-to-face monitoring and social isolation has led to heightened feelings of anxiety and distress amongst some cancer communities, increasing the need for psychological support. However, due to this increased demand and the temporary suspension of services delivering psychosocial support, advice, and care, the needs of patients may not be being met.

"The results from our survey clearly demonstrate the major upheaval COVID-19 has caused. There are significant ongoing concerns about funding and how services and research activity will be maintained in coming months and years,” Kate Absolom, PhD, BSc, university academic fellow in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds and chair of the British Psychosocial Oncology Society, who also supervised the research, said in the release. "It's vital we monitor how the situation develops and work collaboratively other cancer organizations to mitigate challenges and continue developing psycho-oncology activity in the UK."

Importantly though, a few positives were also identified, including the ability to provide increased accessibility of care to patients who are unable to travel. In addition, some respondents suggested that the skills and value of psycho-oncology professions have received increased recognition, which may allow for new collaborations within and between various organizations.

“A period of reflection is now needed to allow professionals across all areas to take stock of progress and achievements and consider how best to face future challenges,” the investigators wrote. “With the response to COVID-19 constantly evolving, further studies are warranted to understand the practical value of these guidance materials and determine the longer-term impact of the pandemic on psycho-oncology in the coming months and years.”

References:

1. Archer S, Holch P, Armes J, et al. “No turning back” Psycho-oncology in the time of COVID-19: Insights from a survey of UK professionals. Psycho-Oncology. doi: 10.1002/pon.5486

2. COVID-19 has major impact on psycho-social care of cancer patients [news release]. University of Surrey. Published August 18, 2020. Accessed August 19, 2020. https://www.newswise.com/coronavirus/covid-19-has-major-impact-on-psycho-social-care-of-cancer-patients/?article_id=736569&sc=dwhr&xy=10019792