Harrogate has become a UK leader with the launch of a new school to teach revolutionary forms of treatment for cancer patients.
Officially launched by Harrogate District NHS Foundation Trust (HDFT) this month, the Natural Health School is “the first of its kind in the UK”.
The school which will be based at the Trust’s Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, but also at Rudding Park, will deliver courses in complementary therapies.
Practitioner at HDFT, Julie Crossman said: “We do a number of therapies in the centre, we offer massage, reflexology, the Bowen technique, acupuncture, acupressure, and we’re hoping to introduce hypnotherapy.
“We help patients a lot with their symptoms from post surgery, from chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and from the sheer terror of having to come in for a scan result again and again. It’s a lifelong journey that these people need support for.”
The school has been set up, thanks to the work of Julie and her colleagues Sarah Grant and Gwyn Featonby, who started the project four years ago.
Macmillan Patient Information, Health and Wellbeing Manager at HDFT, Sarah Grant, said: “It’s the first of its kind in this country and probably the world so it’s really exciting and it’s something we have been working towards for about four years.
“The Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre was built in 2014 - a purpose built cancer unit that not only focussed on the clinical treatments that we give to our patients but also had a real focus on the health and wellbeing and emotional care of our patients as well.
“When it was designed the architects designed a purpose-built complementary therapy suite within the building which is quite revolutionary in itself.”
Sarah explained that initially the centre had to invite self-employed complementary therapists to give treatments on a drop-in basis.
She said: “Complementary therapies have been given to cancer patients for a huge amount of time, but they are very difficult to come by because often they are just run by volunteer services.
“Obviously the NHS is under huge amounts of financial pressure and it can’t really be seen as one of those services which is essential when you have somebody who needs open heart surgery.”
But shortly after the centre opened, the Trust received a generous donation to start a complementary therapy service two days a week for the next three years.
The funding saw the recruitment of Julie into the Trust, who has built the service up from nothing, to a waiting list with 140 patients.
But Sarah explained that she was still concerned: “With this kind donation there came a challenge which did keep me awake for a number of years; when this money runs out after three years, how are you going to sustain a service that is going to be so valuable to the patients that you are treating?
“There is nothing worse in our roles than to have a service and then have to take it away, especially when you know the benefits.”
The team began collating evidence to prove the worth of the service and it wasn’t long before the results arrived.
Julie said: “We discovered quite quickly that we were getting about a 50 per cent improvement in their symptoms, including anxiety and pain management.
“We were able to reduce their medication, we were helping their digestive system, nausea, constipation, their diet.”
Having already launched the annual fundraising ball and the Strutting 4 Cancer charity fashion show, collectively raising over £120,000 to date the team looked at other ways to generate income.
The concept of the Natural Health School was born and now Julie, Gwyn and Sarah already have people booked in to complete courses to become trained complementary therapists.
The school will offer courses from the Sir Robert Ogden Macmillan Centre, the Granby Care Home and the former building of the Horto restaurant at Rudding Park.
But almost no-one understands better the benefits of complementary therapy than Andrew Craven, whose late wife Denise was treated by Julie at the centre in Harrogate.
He said “The reflexology treatments that Denise received from Julie allowed her to not only have a physical but also a mental break from dealing with cancer.
“She came home usually exhausted but the next day, and several days after, having been able to sleep properly she was more her old self and a wife and mum not an ill lady with cancer.
“Really it was the only time she was able to sleep properly and then eat proper portions and enjoy her food again.
“Complementary therapy was so much more than just another cancer treatment, she would come home revitalized, mentally refreshed to be even more positive in fighting her cancer.”
During their royal visit to the Sir Robert Ogden Centre, Denise had the chance to tell Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall about the benefits of complementary therapy.
After losing her battle with cancer in February this year, the Trust have dedicated the Natural Health School to Denise in her memory.
Andrew added: “Julie not only treated Denise physically but also equipped her with skills to visualise in her darkest hours her favorite dog walk that she did with our daughters and this made all the painful treatments much more bearable. The family still likes to do the same walk to feel close to her.
“As a teacher she would be so proud that within Harrogate Hospital, a training school for a new generation of complementary therapists has been established and as a family we wish them every success in what we believe is a necessary part of Cancer patient care treating the whole person not just this awful disease.”