Sunday 21 April 2024
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Pictures: Innovative Nottingham project aims to restore BAME cancer patients’ dignity

Nottingham University Hospitals (NUH) NHS Trust has joined forces with a city hair salon to provide wigs for cancer patients from a minority ethnic background.

The project came about after patients told NUH’s BAME Shared Governance group about the indignity of leaving hospital in a blue wig after chemotherapy. Others reported the impact on their mental health and self-esteem after being given pink or green wigs.

Their experiences echoed the findings of the Annual National Cancer Patient Experience survey, which found that patients from a minority ethnic background were not being offered wigs to match their hair or skin colour.

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Nottingham Hospitals Charity granted the project £3,200 for a trial, and patients were given a voucher to use towards a wig or scarf. As part of the project, the group:

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  • engaged with hair salons and specialists to offer patients a choice of wigs
  • produced a hair loss information leaflet with targeted advice for people from an ethnic minority background
  • produced a factsheet with details of hairdressers, wig providers and support organisations
  • delivered awareness training to staff at NUH and in other Trusts
  • developed a confidential, electronic patient survey

“This has restored my faith in the NHS,” said one patient. “BAME SG has shown that there are people like us who can champion our voice and affect change. I’m confident that this will improve the care of BAME cancer patients and help restore our dignity.“

And another said: “Thank you for making me look like me.”

A key factor in the project’s success was the multidisciplinary team approach – involving the Trust’s Lead Cancer Nurse, Chief Nurse, Chief People Officer, Head of Equality Diversity and Inclusion, Assistant Director of Nursing (ADN) for Research and the ADN for Education, and Macmillan Cancer Nurses – and Executive buy-in and support from Nottingham Hospitals Charity

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The initiative – which was shortlisted in the prestigious Patient Experience Network National Awards – will now be rolled out to all patients with alopecia.

Alexie Hilton, the owner of Elite Nine Hair Clinic, offers conventional wigs as well as non-surgical hair replacement systems, which the client can wear at all times.

A patient having chemotherapy is entitled to a voucher for £72 – and the wigs at Elite Nine in Union Road range from £30 to £150.

And there are now plans for the project to be rolled out for all patients with alopecia.

Alexie, who is also a trichologist – an expert of the scalp said: “Losing your hair is soul-destroying, your hair is your identity.

“It was important that these women had a supplier that could identify with them.

“The project means a lot to me because I am passionate about hair loss.

“To know there has been a massive gap in the market that has never been identified or dealt with, it is a big thing to be part of.

“The time has come for change.

“Like the nurses in this project who are predominately afro-Caribbean themselves – when they come together and start voicing their opinions, only then are we heard.”

Aquiline Chivinge MBE, Assistant Director of Nursing at Nottingham University Hospitals, said the idea came about when she visited a group meeting of Sistas Against Cancer, which supports BAME (Black Asian Minority and Ethnic) women.

She said the patients told her how they felt about their experiences specifically with cancer.

She said: “The women were clear that the treatment for cancer was excellent but when they started losing their hair, we didn’t have enough choice in hair products.

“When I went to see them, I saw them as my sisters and mothers and aunties. I thought it could be me next and I need to make this right.

“Now we are getting requests from other hospitals wanting to know how we have done this.

“I am really excited that something which started so small on a cold evening in Radford has led to a whole change.”

Dr Rose Thompson, Chief Executive of the charity B’Me Against Cancer and part of the Sistas Against Cancer group, has visited the Elite Nine salon for a wig after being diagnosed with breast cancer.

She said: “I did not know what an emotional impact losing my hair would have on me as a Black woman.

“We needed different wigs for Black and Asian women with different hair textures.

“One woman who had a wig didn’t want to go out and take the children to school because of it. It keeps people indoors.

“I got an NHS voucher and the first time I went to Alexie she found me a real afro hair wig.

“I felt that the wig helped me to look a bit more normal.

“Everybody has complimented me when I have worn that wig, I felt so much more confident.

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“It will make a massive difference to people.

“I can’t thank Aquiline enough, she came out of her comfort zone to make this happen.”

Onyinye Enwezor, Development Lead for Clinical Leadership and Chair of the BAME council, applied to Nottingham Hospitals Charity which granted the project £3,200 for a trial with patients.

She said: “With the afro-Caribbean and the Asian community, a woman’s hair is her pride, it is her husband’s pride and her children’s pride.

“For the men, it is their dignity. We wanted to make sure our patients could maintain their dignity and pride because our hair is our crown.

“We made sure the vouchers were sent out to patients before they suffered hair loss.”

The project was listed as a finalist in the Patient Experience Network National Awards (PENNA) awards.

Onyinye added: “We feel we are the biggest winners because our patients have now maintained their dignity.”

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