'New era' for breast cancer care

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New era for breast cancer careA project to allow breast cancer experts to discuss patient treatment via video has won an excellence award.

Telemam was set up in 2005 to allow consultants from Dumfries and Galloway, Lothian, Fife and the Scottish Borders to hold "virtual meetings".

It is hoped the scheme could eventually be extended to allow patients to have direct consultations by video link.

The project was among the winners at the first ever Pfizer P5 Excellence in Oncology Awards.

Dr Ian Kunkler, consultant oncologist at Edinburgh's Western General Hospital, said the scheme meant doctors could spend less time travelling and more on clinical work.

He added that he hoped further research grants would allow video consultations with patients.

"If they were comfortable with this, and if we can show the results are just as good, it could be a major advantage when you need to discuss things like chemotherapy or radiotherapy with a patient," he said.

"For example, a woman might be able to go to the community hospital at Stranraer and sit with a cancer nurse while they talked to the surgeon in Dumfries.

"This would save the patient a trip of about 80 miles and allow us to do much more to make our work fit their lifestyles."

'Certainly encouraging'

Dr Kunkler has already used the technology to carry out a clinic in Dumfries when bad weather stopped him travelling.

"We ended up having consultations with about 20 patients like that and the feedback afterwards was positive," he said.

"That was clearly all very informal, but it was certainly encouraging.

"What we need to do now is carry out formal trials."

The Telemam team was praised by NHS Lothian chief executive James Barbour.

"This pioneering project heralds a new era for the treatment of breast cancer," he said.

"I am delighted that the team which has pioneered this imaginative use of modern technology has earned national recognition for its efforts."

Health Minister Andy Kerr also backed the work done by the project.

"This is an excellent example of partnership working and I congratulate everyone involved in this project," he said.

"Telemedicine has clearly demonstrated its usefulness in breast cancer treatment."

Rural benefits

He added that he would be keen to see the use of the technology extended.

NHS Dumfries and Galloway director of acute medical services Andrew Walls said they had been delighted to be part of the project.

"The ability to link cancer specialists across the country is especially beneficial in a largely rural area like ours," he said.

"Distance, road conditions and weather can all impact on our patients' ability to access specialist clinical advice.

"The potential for being able to offer some consultations by video link, and saving long and tiring journeys for patients, is especially welcome."

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