Huntingdonshire District Council: getting cancer and cardiac rehab patients active with self care

Huntingdonshire District Council has worked with its local academic health science network to encourage cancer and cardiac rehab patients to become active and involved in the self-management of their recovery. Patients are being taught how to use remote monitoring technology, while taking part in exercise classes. This forms part of our resource on self care.


The challenge

Cancer and heart disease are among the most common conditions – and killers – in the country. For those who survive, self care can play an important role in improving quality of life and reducing the risk of death.

But Macmillan Cancer Support has estimated about eight in 10 cancer survivors are not active enough. The charity says this has a major impact on their lives with many reporting they are struggling with difficulties from tiredness to weight gain even years after treatment has finished.

Meanwhile, good rehabilitation and selfmanagement of their health for those with cardiovascular disease can reduce the risk of an early death by a third, according to the British Heart Foundation. Yet less than half of patients follow the recommended course of rehab.

The solution

A project to encourage better self care among cancer and cardiac patients was launched in Huntingdonshire last year.

The local district council and the Eastern Academic Health Science Network worked with the local hospitals and technology company Aseptika to launch Active+.

The programme teaches patients to use remote monitoring technology, including activity trackers, blood pressure monitors, scales and peak flow meters for lung function, to keep an eye on their health. They also routinely record how regularly they are taking medicine. All this is logged electronically and patients are taught how to access and review their own data during the eight-week course.

The course runs in conjunction with weekly exercise classes at the local leisure centres as part of their ongoing rehabilitation. A social group takes place after the class to encourage discussions between participants and allow questions to be asked of professionals.

The Active+ option is being offered in three of the four cardiac rehabilitation courses in the area and has been extended from two to four cancer classes run in conjunction with Hunts Community Cancer Network.

Darren Lander, Active Lifestyles Development Officer for Huntingdonshire District Council, said: “We teach them how to use the data and what they need to look out for. The idea is that when they go to their GP or see other health staff they are fully aware of their health and are able to have informed conversations. It also encourages them to take good care of themselves. They become expert patients.”

The impact

Those who have taken part are full of praise for the way they have been able to take control of their conditions. Maggie, a cardiac patient who completed the course, said: “It made me feel much more secure about my health, I can print out data and take it to the next doctor’s appointment instead of having to remember how I’ve been feeling. It’s all there in black and white. I hope by looking at the charts, I won’t have to go back to hospital.”

Meanwhile, Colin, who has had cancer, said: “When you are told that you have a life-threatening condition, it damages both your confidence and self-esteem. The Active+ programme brought back my confidence. It has given me back my life.” Data from the first 20 patients who completed the course has also showed positive results. There was a 15 per cent improvement in patient activation measure, an assessment of how involved they are in their own self care, and a five per cent improvement in overall health.

Lessons learned

It has been left up to participants to decide whether to take part in the Active+ side of the rehabilitation. Some just choose to do the physical activity classes and do not use the technology to monitor their own health.

Mr Lander said: “You have to be prepared for the fact that some people are worried about using the technology and understanding the data. We spend quite a bit of time supporting them with it and encouraging them.

“Some people will be resistant. We have found once they start using the equipment they understand the benefits and continue to use it. Having people who have already started the course available to talk to them at the start can be very effective. When they see others do it, it gives them confidence to try it themselves.”

How is the approach being sustained?

The Eastern Academic Health Science Network (EAHSN) is now encouraging other areas to start running Active+ courses. The network has produced a six-step guide on how to use Active+ and the benefits of it, which has been targeted at health and care staff locally. Talks are currently under way with a number of councils and hospitals.

It forms part of a sustained focus on self care EAHSN. The network has worked with Essex Healthwatch to promote self care on social media, including using Healthwatch Harriet, a 10-year-old girl who appeared in a video that went viral last year of her grilling senior health leaders about jargon in the NHS.

EAHSN Transformation Director Victoria Corbishley said innovation is going to play an important role in the local health economy in the future. “We’re delighted that these collaborative projects have had such a positive impact on the community. We anticipate implementing supported self care will help many others to set up similar programmes in the near future.”

Contact details

Darren Lander
Active Lifestyles Development Officer
Huntingdonshire District Council
darren.lander@huntingdonshire.gov.uk