Community cancer treatment saves patients time and money

Madam Maimunah Abu Baker no longer had to take a 45-minute bus ride to the National University Cancer Institute (NCIS) at Kent Ridge. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - It takes Madam Maimunah Abu Baker just a 10-minute walk to get the chemotherapy and other treatment she needs in her fight against stage 4 breast cancer.

A satellite treatment centre opened at Keat Hong Community Club in Choa Chu Kang in 2017 means she no longer has to take a 45-minute bus ride to the National University Cancer Institute (NCIS)at Kent Ridge, after it allowed her to get treatment locally in August last year.

"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, told The Straits Times that 326 different patients visited the centres in their first year, with the number growing to 406 last year. It is projected to rise to 672 this year.

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

A total of 37 blood tests and 13 treatments are performed by oncology nurses at the centres. These include blood taking, caring for long-term intravenous lines, 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.

"Many patients who require simple treatments can be safely treated in the community setting," added Prof Lee. "By moving simple cancer treatments to the community, low-risk patients who live near satellite centres benefit by saving travelling time, waiting time, as well as travelling costs."

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 in travelling time.

Nearly 70 per cent of patients saved 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 are now able to get earlier appointments for treatment at the NCIS, said Prof Lee.

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

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

With the encouraging turnout, NCIS plans to add a short infusion drip, which delivers medication like bone protection drugs intravenously, by end of the year.

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

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