Press release: Southampton cancer nurse transforming care for military personnel and veterans

Patient John Myers and nurse Helen Wilkes

A Southampton nurse who has transformed care for armed forces personnel and veterans diagnosed with an asbestos-related cancer has been made full-time due to her success.

Helen Wilkes, pictured above with patient and former RAF pilot John Myers, became the first mesothelioma clinical nurse specialist in the UK to focus on patients with a military background when she was appointed to the part-time post at University Hospital Southampton last year.

The role was initially funded by national cancer charity Mesothelioma UK but has been extended following a contribution from Southampton-based asbestos charity HASAG.

Mesothelioma is a rare and aggressive form of cancer which develops in the lining of the lungs or abdomen, with more than 2,600 people diagnosed in the UK every year – 80 to 100 of those armed forces veterans.

The disease is often associated with exposure to asbestos, an insulating material used in buildings between the 1940s and 1970s and in military vehicles, ships and buildings as a fire-resistant material.

In her role, Helen helps patients from pre-diagnosis throughout their journey and is the primary clinical contact for Mesothelioma UK’s government-funded armed forces information, advice and support service.

She spends time manning the charity’s national helpline and works with local support groups to raise awareness of the disease, treatment options and clinical trial opportunities.

Nurse Helen Wilkes - courtesy of Forces Network

She also provides guidance on specific benefits and compensation claims for armed forces personnel and veterans, as well as industrial workers exposed to asbestos.

“I am extremely pleased HASAG has shown its support for my role by helping to make it full-time and ensuring we can benefit more patients,” said Helen.

"I often find that once people have left the armed forces family, they are no longer sure what support is out there for them.

“When this is compounded with a cancer diagnosis, I'm there to empower them and give them the right support, advice and information.”

Liz Darlison, head of services for Mesothelioma UK, said: “We’re so grateful to HASAG for supporting Helen to become full-time.

“In the year that she has been in post it has been a busy time and she has helped many people affected by mesothelioma, particularly those with an armed forces background.”

Helen, who was recently interviewed about her role by Forces Network, is also working with experts at the University of Sheffield to carry out a military experience study to see how veterans can be better supported in the future.

Posted on Tuesday 6 August 2019