Big C launches 'most aggressive business plan' to support cancer patients

Big C's Dereham Road site will go ahead

The exterior of Big C's new support centre in Dereham Road, Norwich - Credit: Big C

The opening of three new support centres by the start of next year and working with patients earlier in their diagnosis are part of the "most aggressive business plan ever" by Norfolk and Waveney's largest cancer charity.

Dr Chris Bushby, chief executive of Big C, said the pandemic had been a very difficult time for the charitable sector and cancer patients leading to the charity to be "bold and brave" with its plans for the future.

These include the opening of three new support centres starting with sites in Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn in March and July.

Big C CEO Dr Chris Bushby said income from events and shops had collapsed. Picture: Julian Claxton

Big C CEO Dr Chris Bushby said income from events and shops had collapsed. Picture: Julian Claxton - Credit: Archant

The charity has secured the funding it needs to begin building its £500,000 support centre in Dereham Road, Norwich, with aims to open by the end of this year to offer services to cancer patients and their families in and around the city. The site will run additionally to the charity's premise at the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital.

Dr Bushby said: "Sometimes in an organisation you get an evolutionary jump and I feel we are at that moment in time. We have been very fortunate as an organisation because of the skills within the organisation and the determination and its reputation we were able to adapt very quickly to what was happening. 

"Our primary is anyone who turns up at our centres, virtually makes contact that we can support them as a cancer patient or their family and that will never change, that is our primary objective." 

Dr Chris Bushby with a party of students visiting from France.

Dr Chris Bushby with a party of students visiting from France. - Credit: Big C

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With a sharp drop in income, the charity was not able to finance as many research projects, which have in the past included the work of Professor Colin Cooper into prostate cancer, work Dr Bushby said could have a "serious global impact". 

He said: "We had to concentrate on the frontline and the frontline is cancer patients." 

BigC Shoot @ Bob Champion Building, inside the Cancer Labs at NNUH

Professor Colin Cooper has been supported by Big C into prostate cancer research. - Credit: Copyright (c) Julian Claxton Photography 2017.

 Prof. Colin Cooper, Dr Stephen Robinson, Dr Lindsay Hall and Dr Daniel Brewer

The charity has made significant investment into cancer research. Pictured are Prof. Colin Cooper, Dr Stephen Robinson, Dr Lindsay Hall and Dr Daniel Brewer - Credit: Big C

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The charity hopes to be able to start up face to face meetings at its centres from the end of June but will look to run a "hybrid" service of online and physical support, allowing people to choose the service they prefer and reach cancer patients living outside of Norfolk.

The CEO said: "What we have learnt in the last year has benefits in future for Big C especially as we develop regionally.

"This is the time to take our heritage and how we were able to produce something so special for Norfolk to help outside of the region. 

Big C's virtual support

The charity has adapted its services to offer support virtually during the pandemic and will continue to offer a hybrid service when face to face appointments can happen. - Credit: Big C

"The level of support that Big C provides in Norfolk and Waveney remains rare nationally and means that the county has an advantage in delivering NHS expectations going forwards.”

By this year, every person diagnosed with cancer should have access to a total care plan covering their treatment and support for their health and wellbeing. 

Due to the pandemic, this may be delayed but Dr Bushby said the charity are ready to help patients very early in their diagnosis before they even start treatment.

On average 76pc of patients in  Norfolk and Waveney receive their first definitive cancer treatment within 62 days of an urgent referral. This is under the national target of 85pc and national average of 79.9pc.

He said: "We could do a lot of work with patients, 62 days from diagnosis to when they start their treatment, a lot can happen in 62 days you can be sorting out people's concerns about finances, concerns about what support mechanisms around them, you can start counselling them you can start pre rehabilitation programmes what they can join in before you ever get there."

In the wake of the first wave, Dr Bushby urged people to be seen the moment they suspected any symptoms after "shocking" figures there was a 39pc reduction in key cancer diagnostic tests during March and July last year.

Currently in the region, 54pc of cancers with a known stage are diagnosed early, with the aim to increase this figure to 75pc by 2028.

He said: "You need to present yourself and be in the system because unless you are in the system, and it doesn't matter whether the system is performing well or bad, you need to be in it because if you haven't even got into the system there is a problem.

"Cancer is all about catching it in the early stages. 

"That didn't happen in the first lockdown."

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