Report and article by Granada Reports journalist Zoë Muldoon
When cancer services across the country were suspended during the first waves of the Covid pandemic, one hospital trust in the North West decided to carry on giving life-saving treatment to those in urgent need.
St Helens and Knowsley Teaching Hospitals set up a dedicated 'Surgical Cancer Hub' at St Helens hospital, so that staff could continue performing life-saving surgery.
One of those lives saved was 75-year-old Barry Cave.
In March 2020 he received a devastating bowel cancer diagnosis.
He needed an operation to remove a tumour, but was anxious about going into hospital during the first Covid wave.
Barry said: "I was really worried, I knew I had to have the operation but I was also concerned about going into hospital and catching Coronavirus.
"If I caught it I’d have double the problems, the virus and cancer, and that was terrifying."
But Barry was reassured by his surgeon Ajai Samad and cancer nurse specialist Angela Fitzgerald-Smith.
Barry says the care he received was outstanding and he's now clear from cancer.
He said: "They are all amazing, the whole team. Mr Samad deserves an MBE, he really does!"
The bowel cancer surgeon was one of the driving forces behind the Surgical Cancer Hub.
He said it was a "no-brainer" to continue operating on cancer patients during the height of the pandemic, despite the risks involved.
He said: "If we hadn't offered that surgery to patients, they wouldn't have had an operation for three or four months.
"It would have progressed and become a non-curable situation."
On winning the award, Mr Samad said: "This wouldn't have happened without the whole team, the management, the foot-soldiers. All of the people behind the scenes have made this work."
Surgery can be just one part of a terrifying journey for people with cancer.
And during the first waves of the pandemic, no visitors were allowed into hospitals and staff were covered from head to toe in PPE, making the experience of going in for an operation all the more daunting.
That's why staff at St Helens set up a 'meet and greet' service for patients coming in for operations.
Cancer nurse specialist Angela Fitzgerald-Smith said: "The patient's loved ones would just have to drop them off at the hospital entrance, so we would guide them through every step of the way.
"We also face-timed relatives to reassure them."
Between May 2020 and July 2021, the Surgical Cancer Hub received hundreds of referrals for urgent cancer treatment throughout the first three waves of the pandemic, for patients across the North West.
Along with Mr Samad, Divisional Medical Director, John McCabe, was among the representatives accepting the award on behalf of the team and the Trust, he said: "To receive the national award is quite simply amazing."
"As a team we have been committed to ensuring that any patient requiring urgent cancer diagnosis and treatment continued to be seen in the safest and quickest way possible.
"Not only has the team risen to every challenge and prioritised preventing delays to patient care, but thanks to their dedication they’ve also been able to maintain excellent standards and improve outcomes in such difficult circumstances."
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