Diagnosed with cancer and faced with Covid-19, one health insurance member relocated to receive her chemo remotely
In 2019, Felicity, a personal assistant living in central London, known as Fliss to her friends, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35.
After referring herself to VitalityHealth by telephone, she made an appointment within two hours, where she had a mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy. Fliss received her diagnostic results within a week and began her treatment plan two weeks later.
As we all know, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK in March, however Fliss had spotted the early warning signs months before that.
Your body needs time to heal and repair, never mind your emotions. Losing a part of your body is a massive mental adjustment.
"I'd been reading the news about Covid-19 since November, so I was already working out possible contingency strategies for my treatment, even before my doctors," she tells COVER. "All of them meant moving from my home in London which is about the last thing I wanted to do because I suffered very badly through chemo."
Fliss was appointed a dedicated point of contact, a Vitality oncology care consultant named Natalie. This allowed her to relocate her chemotherapy treatment to home care in Sheffield where her parents live, through Vitality's recently launched chemotherapy-at-home service.
"From my very first video conversation with Natalie, I knew healthcare at home was an option and so I decided to relocate to my parents' house in Sheffield and set up ‘chemo at home' through Vitality there," she says. "There aren't really any words to describe how easy it all was - I didn't have to do anything other than say ‘this is what I want to do'; so the biggest hurdle ended up being the M1 motorway."
Vitality then funded a bilateral oophorectomy at Claremont Hospital in Sheffield. "Again, the whole process from start to finish was brilliant and quick," she explains. "I felt safe in terms of Covid, the hospital had gone to extraordinary lengths to keep patients protected."
After building up her strength and immune system, she returned to London as she saw the number of Covid-19 cases gradually fall.
'Choice is everything'
While she admits her private medical insurance (PMI) was not the main thing that ensured her recovery, Fliss found that the support received made the whole experience "easier and much more comfortable". For example, in the NHS, patients tend to have 24 hours in hospital post-mastectomy, however she was allowed five nights, which gave her longer to recover before returning home. "I couldn't imagine going home sooner than that," she reflects. "Your body needs time to heal and repair, never mind your emotions. Losing a part of your body is a massive mental adjustment."
She also benefited from a temporary inflatable implant, rather than having a full-sized implant fitted straight away, which was something a friend of hers received from the NHS. "It meant my stitches healed first before inflation," Fliss tell us. "She [her friend] really struggled with the wound sealing because of the weight of the implant. Sometimes slow and steady is the best way."
Fliss also feels that having a single claim number and Natalie as a ‘go-to' person also meant that issues, such as her allergic reactions to chemo drugs, were clearly communicated to her oncologist. "Natalie understood my journey, which is unique of course to everyone else's, so we could anticipate and mitigate issues together."
She was also offered a degree of choice during her treatment. "For my final op, the second mastectomy, there was a struggle to get theatre space, but the team were excellent - it meant I had to wait two weeks rather than one, which is nothing. I could have had the op sooner at a different hospital, but I didn't want to do that. Choice is everything at a time when you have no control with your illness."
With her cancer now removed, Fliss' main challenge is to reduce the risk of its reoccurrence. She and her husband [pictured] hope to have a family in the future.
"There are never any guarantees, but the rule of thumb [for health insurance] is that you see the best specialist in the least amount of time for your condition," she concludes. "When you are worrying about something health-related days feel like weeks, and weeks feel like months. It sets up unnecessary anxiety. I would always recommend private health insurance."
According to Dr Keith Klintworth, group COO for VitalityHealth, while private healthcare capacity has almost returned to pre-Covid levels, the pandemic has made a long-lasting impact on how cancer treatment will be delivered going forward, especially where a patient with a lowered immune system may need to be treated remotely.
"Hearing Felicity's first-hand experience of having her cancer treatment at home highlights the importance of continuing to think about how and where we offer healthcare, and how we use technology to support this, long after the pandemic is over," Dr Klintworth explains to COVER.
"The other key change for us has been an acceleration in how we use and adopt technology, with the industry as a whole making huge strides in digitalising health care and treatment pathways. From highly convenient remote consultations with consultants, that offer the same high level of care as an in-person appointment, alongside being lower cost, to the speedy development and launch of our new digital care hub, where members can see their plan details, treatment history and book the treatment they need - this digitalisation will benefit people for many years to come."
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