Behavioural Research and Evaluation Unit (BREU), Cancer Council South Australia

Social work service at Cancer Council SA lodges: an evaluation of the impact on distress and support provided to rural cancer patients

Cancer Council SA operates two accommodation lodges for rural Australians who require cancer treatment in Adelaide. An on-site social work service assists guests to manage the dislocation of travel and the psychosocial impact of their diagnosis and treatment. The social work service prioritises guests with high needs. The main objective of the evaluation was to describe the impact of the social work service on the ability of guests to manage the challenges associated with their cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Guests who stayed at the lodges during June 2015 were mailed a questionnaire collecting information about their experience of support and level of distress upon arrival to and departure from the lodge. Awareness of the service was also assessed. The sample comprised 149 guests. Contact with a social worker (n=88) was associated with greater perceived support in several areas (e.g. managing difficult emotions, feeling more able to ask questions of their health care team) and a greater reduction in distress between arrival and departure, compared with no contact. Just over half (52%) of guests who did not see a social worker were unaware of the service. The demographic characteristics of guests who did and did not have contact with the service were comparable. The study concluded that the social work service provided effective psychosocial support to high needs guests receiving treatment away from home. Further research could investigate the impact of a social work service in the acute care setting and explore other ways to provide information and support, including group programs.

Physical activity program at the lodges

In 2016, Cancer Council SA will commence a ‘Physical activity and cancer’ program at the Cancer Council SA lodges. The program is designed for long-stay guests (i.e. four weeks or more) who are receiving cancer treatment, but will be open to all guests who wish to participate. The key objectives of the program are to:

  • educate guests on the importance, safety and benefits of maintaining physical activity and avoiding too much sedentary behaviour during (and after) treatment
  • inform guests about how they can be physically active during their stay at the lodge
  • provide information, equipment and activity opportunities within the lodge environment to support guests to be physically active.

The program will include two sessions run by a qualified exercise physiologist. The first session will include an educational component, functional testing, discussion about ways to be active, and demonstration of simple exercises that can be performed at the lodges (or at home). Guests will be provided with a pedometer to track their step count. The follow-up session will include functional testing (with feedback on changes in function), discussion about progress, barriers and concerns, reinforcement of key messages from the initial session, and encouragement to continue with any changes made. Our aim is to increase awareness of the importance of physical activity during cancer treatment, and to encourage uptake of physical activity and avoidance of too much sedentary behaviour among long-stay guests at the lodges.

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