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Graduate hopes to breakdown barriers in cancer treatment

Cancer patients in South Wales could soon be diagnosed and treated more quickly, thanks to a new Radiology Navigator role being introduced as a result of research by a University of South Wales graduate.

Sharon Donovan, Interim Head of Radiography at Cwm Taf Morgannwg (CTM) University Health Board, studied the MSc in Health and Public Service Management at USW, and graduated in 2021. As part of her Masters dissertation research, Sharon put forward a case for a Radiology Navigator to be introduced within the health board.

Thanks to funding from the Bevan Commission, CTM has now created the role, which will be based at Princess of Wales Hospital in Bridgend and aims to significantly reduce delays between diagnosis and treatment for cancer patients – leading to better outcomes and higher rates of survival.

The Radiology Navigator acts as a pastoral guide for cancer patients, from the moment they receive a diagnosis, throughout all of the diagnostic tests they need, until they reach the treatment stage of their care. They are on hand to help translate medical terms and explain the next steps of a patient’s treatment; involvement in multidisciplinary team meetings and liaising with the whole team that will help escalate the patient through the pathway.

Sharon said: “I’m very passionate about assisting cancer patients through the system as quickly as possible, especially as an early diagnosis can be the difference between a stage 1 to a stage 4 cancer. An early diagnosis for the patient greatly increases their chance of survival. A patient’s diagnostic journey can be disjointed. For example, a patient may need different scans to reach a diagnosis, which could mean that they are coming into hospital on different days, even waiting weeks between appointments.”

Sharon hopes that, in the future, the benefits shown from this role could be adopted and rolled out to other hospitals within the Cwm Taf Morgannwg area, and potentially to other health boards in Wales, across a range of medical disciplines. Navigator roles have already proved successful in countries such as the US and Germany, with similar, more clerical-based roles being trialled in parts of England.

Sarah Maund has taken up the new role based at Princess of Wales Hospital. She said: “I am delighted to begin my new role as the Radiology Cancer Navigator. As a Radiographer with 18 years’ experience working with a great team, I have found that one of the most rewarding parts of my job is making a positive difference for patients.

“I will endeavour to improve the patient journey through the diagnostic pathway by booking tests sooner, together and be that point of contact between the patient and the clinical teams. I hope the role will prove to be a great success and something that is rolled out across the Health Board and beyond in the future.”