Psycho-oncology service provisions for hospitalised cancer patients before and during the COVID-19 pandemic in an oncology centre in eastern India

10 May 2021
Arnab Mukherjee, Meheli Chatterjee, Shrestha Chattopadhyay, Chitralekha Bhowmick, Archisman Basu, Surya Bhattacharjee, Soumita Ghose, Soumitra Shankar Datta

Background: Addressing the mental health needs of cancer patients and their caregivers improves the quality of care the patient receives in any cancer care ecosystem. International practice currently encourages integrated care for physical and mental health in oncology. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has affected the delivery of healthcare services across the world. The current research paper is on the psycho-oncology service provision for hospitalised cancer patients before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Methods: All patients who were referred to psycho-oncology services during the study period of 1 month, in the two successive years of 2019 and 2020, were included in the study. Retrospective data were collected from the centralised electronic medical records for patients. Data included cancer diagnosis, reason for admission, admitting team and reason for a psychiatric referral. Other parameters that were measured were the timing of the psychiatric assessment, psychiatric diagnosis and psycho-oncology care provided, which included psychological interventions carried out and medications prescribed. The overall institutional data on cancer care provision are also presented in brief to provide context to the psycho-oncology services.

Results: Integrated psycho-oncology services reviewed and managed patients round the year in the hospital where the study was conducted. During the 1-month study period, in 2019 and 2020, the total number of hospitalised cancer patients managed by the services was 74 and 52, respectively. During the study period of 2020, 292 patients with cancer who were being treated in the hospital had tested positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) tested on reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and 50 members of healthcare staff also tested positive. The most common diagnosis of patients was found to be stress-related adjustment disorder [16/74 (21.6%) in 2019 and 16/52 (30.8%) in 2020]. The paper discusses the common stressors voiced by the patients and their caregivers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Several challenges of providing psychological services were overcome by the team and the paper touches upon the common strategies that were used during the pandemic. Most patients did not need medications, but a significant minority did benefit from treatment with psychotropic medications. Simple psychological interventions such as sleep hygiene, supportive therapy sessions and psycho-education benefited many patients and were feasible even during the pandemic.

Conclusion: The provision of psycho-oncology services to cancer patients and their caregivers was important before and during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Watch a video which illustrates the psycho-oncology service provisions in an oncology centre in Eastern India during the COVID-19 pandemic here:

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