SafeFit, the online exercise and wellbeing programme for cancer patients

The country has been thrown into a very different position this year; one that no one could have possibly predicted or planned for. So many vital services that we normally take for granted, have had to adapt very quickly, to the sudden coronavirus pandemic and the world of cancer was no exception.

The normal day-to-day cancer services that were providing patients with a lifeline of support, had to stop and so did all the trials.

Wessex Fit for Cancer (also known as Wesfit) was one such trial which had to be paused, to protect the vulnerable people that were taking part. The clinical trial was working with a small group of cancer patients at University Hospital Southampton; looking at the positive impact exercise, personalised nutrition and mental wellbeing advice, had on a cancer patient awaiting cancer surgery and/or treatment.

The irony is, these patients’ very vulnerability that the trial was working to support, suddenly was at risk of becoming even worse, with the government guidance to shield for so many cancer patients and self-isolate for thousands more. The virus sweeping the nation, was (and still is) a major health risk for anyone with existing health conditions including those who may be receiving immune-suppressing treatment – like chemotherapy, for example.

The team behind Wesfit, could not sit back and see their patients left stranded, so they set about developing a virtual version of the trial, SafeFit.

SafeFit has come about because of the lockdown and offers online sessions to cancer patients, with fully qualified instructors from CanRehab.

The virtual service means that the support can be wider-reaching and the sessions are now available online for many more cancer patients to access through a simple self-referral application.

Those signing up gain free access to the support on offer and can contribute their experiences and data to research aimed at assessing these services as part of standard cancer care in the future.

Funding needed to continue:

However, the virtual service is now under threat of having to stop as well, because the vital funds needed for this programme, are running out. We are therefore, starting a public fundraising campaign, with the support of the Southampton Hospitals Charity, in order to try and keep SafeFit going.

SafeFit uses the techniques, people and resources from Professor Sandy Jack’s national WesFit trial, and initial funding came from the NHS England Wessex Cancer Alliance.

It costs approximately £30,000 for SafeFit to operate over 3 months; therefore, we need to raise £60,000 if we want to keep SafeFit going for 6 months and £120,000, for a year.

I had to call nine patients to explain we were pausing our WesFit trial, they were completely devastated.”

Explains Professor Sandy Jack, consultant clinician scientist and Professor of Prehabilitation Medicine at University Hospital Southampton.

I was clear there and then that we needed to put all our energies into supporting these people and others like them through the pandemic. I am determined we can raise the funds needed, to keep SafeFit going while people still need us.”

Initially, the plan was for around 1000 patients nationwide to be supported by the Southampton team and CanRehab trainers, with plans to provide support for all; dependent on securing this further funding.

Exercise sessions are delivered by volunteer personal trainers, who have been trained and accredited in appropriate, safe exercise for cancer patients by the CanRehab charity. A small cohort of patients have trialled these before launching the service nationwide.

Cancer services will never be the same again after coronavirus. We’ve started the sort of ‘universal intervention’ described in the NHS Long Term Plan right now. What’s more, Sandy and the team are building research into it, to provide solid data on its impact and how to implement such support long-term.”  – Sally Rickard, Director of the NHS England Wessex Cancer Alliance, funder of the WesFit initiative.

With the news that gyms will not be able to re-open on 4 July, as many had been expecting, it is even more vital that the cancer patients currently being supported by SafeFit, do not feel abandoned again.

Professor Anna Campbell Professor Clinical Exercise Science and Director of CanRehab said:

Our work, and that of the WesFit team has shown that this type of support is hugely valued by cancer patients, is cost effective, employs non-NHS, skilled staff in the hard-hit leisure sector.”

Last updated: 30/06/2020