Cancer patient’s fear after positive Covid test and new treatment helping her since

A vulnerable woman from Carlisle has been the first person to be administered a new antibody and antiviral treatment after testing positive for Covid-19.

Gill Harrington has a rare form of blood cancer and, after being terrified of catching coronavirus, tested positive for the disease.

But North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust were on hand to offer a new treatment.

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The antibody and antiviral treatment is now being administered to eligible patients in parts of Cumbria when they first test positive for coronavirus.

Now, when eligible patients in the community with a range of conditions including cancer, liver disease, immune deficiencies and neuro disorders report a positive PCR test, they will be assessed by clinicians and invited to receive appropriate medication as an outpatient at North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Foundation Trust.

Paul Fieldhouse, Clinical Director of Pharmacy at NCIC said: “When a patient is admitted to hospital with coronavirus, they are usually in the later stages of their illness and we can treat them with oxygen, steroids and in some cases immunotherapy medicines which are given through an intravenous drip.

“Clinical trials have shown that some immunotherapy medicines and a new antiviral medicine, have been successful in reducing hospitalisations and deaths in this group of vulnerable patients.

“Administering these medicines to patients much earlier will have a significant benefit to the patient and also reduce the numbers of people that need to be cared for in hospital.”

Blood cancer patient Gill was the first patient in the North East and North Yorkshire region to receive the treatment at the Cumberland Infirmary in Carlisle December 16 last year.

Due to her condition she had been shielding for two years since the start of the pandemic.

She said: “I had been so careful and was terrified when I first saw the two red lines on the lateral flow test. But the speed in which I was given treatment was amazing, it’s reassuring to know these medications are available, and I hope it will help people feel less frightened.”

Last month, the Trust rapidly established the Covid Medicines Delivery Unit at Cumberland Infirmary where strict protocols are in place in accessing the hospital.

Paul Fieldhouse, Clinical Director of Pharmacy at NCIC
Paul Fieldhouse, Clinical Director of Pharmacy at NCIC

Gill was given full PPE to wear and was escorted by clinical staff to the respiratory ward to receive the intravenous antibody and was back out within two hours. Gill is now on the mend and able to go out for short walks. Although still feeling quite fatigued, she is very grateful that she was able to benefit from the medication.

“It’s just superb, I have nothing but praise for our NHS,” she said.

Vanessa Connor, Associate Director of Operations said: “We have very rapidly put a plan in place to ensure we can identify, contact, assess and administer these medications for eligible patients in the community. For the first few weeks, we delivered the treatment to people as an outpatient in the Cumberland Infirmary, however this week we have moved the service to Wigton Community Hospital which enables us to treat even more patients – and our first patients are now receiving treatments there.”

57-year-old Tracy Robertson, from Wigton, has rheumatoid arthritis and was the first person to receive the treatment at Wigton Community Hospital last Tuesday (January 18).

She said: “The team were fantastic and definitely put my mind at ease. It was a great experience and it’s really exciting to see that it helps.”

Those patients who are eligible have already received a letter explaining that if they test positive they may be eligible for antivirals. Patients who are in the eligible group have been asked to contact 111 if they get a positive PCR test, to arrange this.

Mr Fieldhouse said: “It is fabulous to see patients in north Cumbria having access to the latest medicines to treat COVID. North Cumbria Integrated Care NHS Trust has been part of the RECOVERY trial offering trial medicines for COVID and has supported the development of COVID treatments that will offer benefits to patients worldwide.

“Now, just one year on from being one of the first NHS organisations to offer COVID vaccinations NCIC has become one of the first Trusts to offer COVID treatments too. With two monoclonal antibodies and an antiviral agent available now we anticipate being able to offer further new treatments from next month too.

“Our healthcare professionals and support services teams have worked hard over the last two years throughout the pandemic to maintain services but I am particularly proud of the multi-disciplinary teams that have worked together to make COVID treatments available to our local population.”

Ms Connor added: “Teams across the whole organisation have pulled together to be able to deliver this in north Cumbria. From the respiratory ward staff and clinicians, to the community, operational and support teams everyone has played a part in being able to bring this to our patients.”

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Lancs Live – Cumbria