Fronting the war on skin cancer

Heather Baines, cancer lead nurse at Clifton Hospital
Heather Baines, cancer lead nurse at Clifton Hospital
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Specialist nurse Heather Baines is no ordinary medic.

Specialist nurse Heather Baines is no ordinary medic.

Not only has she been a nurse for an incredible 43 years, she has gained national recognition as a skin cancer specialist, after more than 35 years of experience seeing patients with skin cancer issues.

She has been the Cancer Lead Nurse at Clifton Hospital for the last seven years and has no plans to stop, despite having such a long career.

Training at Preston Royal Infirmary in 1974, Heather has seen many changes in health care and much medical advancement.

She said: “When I started, matron was in charge and knew everything. Nurses were nervous of doctors on rounds. Bed sheets had to have the correct corners. It was so different.”

Although Heather says she was ‘rubbish’ as school, she found nursing was the right thing for her. As such, her interest took her through a diploma, degree and a masters level in skin cancer.

In fact, Heather is so advanced she is able to prescribe and perform surgery. She is at the top of her career. And she still loves her job.

She said: “Sometimes I have to pinch myself and wonder how I got here. But I still love dealing with patients, which I have specifically chosen to do instead of going down the management route.”

Having worked in dermatology for 35 years, Heather helped set up the new dermatology department at Chorley Hospital and the skin cancer service at Royal Bolton Hospital.

She then came to Clifton in 2010, which is not far from where she lives, to set up and oversee the skin cancer service that patients are referred to by the GP with suspected skin cancers on the two-week rule which means patients have to be seen within 14 days.

Heather diagnoses skin cancers and results are discussed weekly with other members of her team, and a plan of action is agreed. Heather can also remove certain cancers surgically.

The team is always within the local and national cancer targets.

Heather continued: “We are seeing an increase in skin cancers which are increasing around 10 per cent a year.

“What was traditionally a disease for the over 60s, we are now finding patients are getting younger, usually because its ‘fashionable’ to have a sun tan.”

When the service was first set up, Heather was able to manage alone.

With the increase of patients, the team has now grown to three and includes Tony Eaton, clinical nurse specialist and Michelle Forsyth, Macmillan-funded care-co-ordinator who helps with new patient clinics and goes into the community to educate about skin cancers and how to stay safe in the sun. Melanoma skin cancer incidence rates are projected to rise by 7 per cent in the UK before 2035. The UK skin cancer death rate is now higher than that of Australia.

Heather added: “People using sunbeds, letting themselves burn in the sun, are putting themselves at risk.

“People need to be sensible and use at least Factor 30 sun cream, even in this country.

“There are safer ways of looking bronzed by using false tan. We continue to spread the message about being safe in the sun. Hopefully, our programme will help to reduce skin cancer. It won’t be easy, but we will give it a damn good shot.”

After such a long and interesting career, what is the secret to Heather’s success?

“It’s all about being patient focussed.”

She said: “You have to show patients you care and treat them as you would like yourself or your relatives to be treated.”