Community cancer treatment saves patients time and money

Keat Hong Family Medicine Clinic's assistant nurse clinician Chris She attending to Madam Maimunah Abu Baker, who takes a 10-minute walk to Keat Hong Community Club for her cancer treatments.
Keat Hong Family Medicine Clinic's assistant nurse clinician Chris She attending to Madam Maimunah Abu Baker, who takes a 10-minute walk to Keat Hong Community Club for her cancer treatments.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

It takes Madam Maimunah Abu Baker just a 10-minute walk to get the treatments she needs in her fight against Stage 4 breast cancer.

A satellite treatment centre, which opened at Keat Hong Community Club in Choa Chu Kang in 2017, means that since August last year, she has no longer needed to take a 45-minute bus ride to the National University Cancer Institute, Singapore, (NCIS) at Kent Ridge.

"It's nearer and very convenient," said the 57-year-old housewife.

The NCIS opened two such centres in February 2017 - the other is located at Jurong Medical Centre - and the number of patients using them has been rising steadily.

Associate Professor Lee Soo Chin, who heads the NCIS' department of haematology-oncology, said that 326 unique patients visited the centres in their first year, with the number growing to 406 last year. This is projected to rise to 672 this year.

  • 326

    Number of unique patients who visited the National University Cancer Institute satellite treatment centres in the first year they opened.

Known as the NCIS-on-the-GO programme, it serves patients who undergo initial chemotherapy treatments at NCIS, and have been certified safe by their doctors to receive subsequent treatments in the community.

A total of 37 types of blood tests and 13 types of treatments are performed by oncology nurses at the centres. These include blood-taking, caring for patients' long-term intravenous lines, performing anti-cancer or supportive treatments that can be administered under the skin, and the removal of chemotherapy infusion pumps.

The centres were set up to cope with growing demand at the NCIS.

Prof Lee said: "Many patients who require simple treatments can be safely treated in the community setting. Low-risk patients who live near satellite centres benefit by saving travelling time, waiting time, as well as travelling costs."

Indeed, the centres have helped slash patients' travelling and waiting time, and saved them money.

A survey of 53 patients last year found that a quarter could walk to the centres, and 85 per cent saved 20 minutes or more on travelling.

Nearly 70 per cent of patients cut down at least 30 minutes of waiting time, and four-fifths of them saved at least $5 per trip.

The benefits also extend to patients with complex needs, who can now get earlier appointments for treatments at NCIS, said Prof Lee.

Patients requiring complex treatments may need to spend up to eight hours there, while simple treatments may take a few minutes.

The treatments cost the same at the satellite centres and at NCIS, but patients have to pay an additional $5 to have their medication delivered to the centres.

With the encouraging turn-out, NCIS plans to allow patients to undergo a short infusion drip procedure, which delivers medication such as bone-protection drugs intravenously, at the centres by the end of the year.

Prof Lee said that NCIS hopes to open more satellite treatment centres, with possible locations in Boon Lay, Woodlands, Bukit Batok and Punggol.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 13, 2019, with the headline 'Community cancer treatment saves patients time and money'. Print Edition | Subscribe