Cancer Treatment Helpline: a retrospective study of the NHS Tayside experience

Ilse Trip, Sherie George, Micheal Thomson, Russell D. Petty, Mark A. Baxter (Lead / Corresponding author)

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Background: Treatment-related toxicity and delays in the management of this toxicity can impact the outcomes of patient with cancer. In Scotland, a national cancer helpline was established to provide triage assessment for patients receiving systemic anticancer therapy (SACT) in an attempt to minimise delays in toxicity management. In this article, we describe the use and impact of the helpline in our region over the last 5 years.

Methods: Patients who contacted the NHS Tayside cancer helpline between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2020 were retrospectively identified. Patient demographics as well as the reason and outcome of each call was recorded. A descriptive analysis was performed.

Results: 6562 individual patients received SACT and 8385 calls were recorded during the time period. Median age of callers was 63 years (range 17-98) and 59.2% were women. Use of the helpline increased by 83.6% between 2016 and 2020, driven by an increase in in-hours calls. 41% of calls required review by a healthcare professional only, 24% required review and admission and the remaining 35% telephone advice only. The majority of cases (85%) were either assessed or advised solely by oncology. The proportional use of general practitioner services has decreased.

Conclusions: The helpline provides a way for patients to report symptoms directly to their clinical team and receive appropriate specialist advice at an early stage. We demonstrate that most of these calls can be managed solely by our oncology team. This system can reduce pressure on other parts of the local health system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere001488
Number of pages6
JournalBMJ Open Quality
Issue number2
Early online date16 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • access to information
  • cancer
  • clinical decision-making
  • efficiency
  • healthcare quality improvement
  • organisational

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • Leadership and Management


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