United in support of the NHS, cancer patients were cared for in the Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital, providing them with a secure environment where they were able to shield, helping to release beds at Addenbrooke’s hospital in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

One such patient is Paul Aberdein. An active 56-year-old with a family farm business, he faced the reality of having only days left to live. Paul shares his personal journey as an oncology and haematology patient while the country went into lockdown last year (2020):

"Last December (2019) while I was out with my grandchildren, I started feeling really unwell. What I tried to dismiss as flu became progressively worse day by day, so I booked an appointment with my GP who took blood samples. The results of these tests left me totally devastated when they revealed I had leukaemia.

"My local hospital wasn’t able treat me because I needed specialist treatment in a highly specialised hospital. Thankfully, I was referred to Addenbrooke’s and arrived on the assessment ward the same night. This is when I realised how life-threatening my illness was, and if I’d not been admitted to Addenbrooke's I may only have lived another three to five days. It was a terrifying time for me, my wife Tracy and our entire family.

"At Addenbrooke’s I was transferred to the haematology Ward D6, which is where I spent all of Christmas and New Year, the treatment and care I received there was incredible. Everything was clearly explained about the severity of my condition and that they needed to start treatment straightaway. Within 20-minutes of being on the ward I received my first chemotherapy treatment, and during the next seven days bone marrow biopsies were followed by more chemo. Throughout all of this I felt in very safe hands, I saw doctors twice a day and a specialist nurse was never more than 20ft away from me at any one time.

"By mid-January (2020) I was released as an outpatient to the Addenbrooke’s haematology day unit, which again provided amazing care. Unfortunately, in February I developed problems and was admitted to Ward D9, where they advised me that a vital transplant was required. By March (2020), coronavirus had arrived in the UK. Amid the pandemic, I was told that the leukaemia had returned and my transplant would have to take place after the Covid-19 peak. With intensive care beds at a premium due to the sheer volume of coronavirus patients, I knew this was a critical situation; I was frightened for my future and the potentially serious hard road ahead.

"It was at this stage that conversations with two outstanding doctors, Dr Andrew King and Dr Charles Crawley, changed everything. Dr Crawley phoned me at home on a Sunday afternoon to personally explain in detail about my next treatment and that my continuation of care would be at the independent Nuffield Hospital in Cambridge. That half an hour conversation reassured me and my wife beyond measure, he went out of his way to put our minds at rest during what was a really tough time for everyone.

"Three days later I was in the Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital. I had dedicated NHS and Nuffield Health nurses working together 24-7. It’s hard to explain how being shielded in this way brought such immediate peace of mind.

"Of course, the thing that really mattered was the treatment I received while I was there. All of a sudden, these healthcare professionals had to deal with a global pandemic in nationwide lockdown, so the NHS Addenbrooke's and Nuffield Health hospital teams were working together under one roof. It was amazing to see consultants, clinicians, specialist nurses and surgical ward teams supporting each other – sharing their knowledge and experience as they worked side-by-side to keep us patients staying strong. To be honest, I’ve been so humbled by the whole experience - it was a total team effort for which I am truly thankful.

"As the clinical experts continued my NHS pathway at the Nuffield, it was the genuine personal caring that had a big impact for me and my family. They were so attentive, cheering me up with the little things, when the big things in life were so hard to face. I was dealing with a nasty disease, so some days were better than others, but after being in hospital for just over a month the emotional strain was starting affect us all.

"I remember when it was coming up to Father’s Day in June (2020), I was very down, Tracy and I were cuddling, crying, and having a moment when Nurse Rogers came into my room – she picked up on it straightaway and knew I needed some precious time at home – within half an hour she’d arranged weekend leave. Addenbrooke's and Nuffield Health must have negotiated to make this happen, they had everything organised, from preparing all the medication right down to dual hospital wristbands, and I went home the next day to be with my children and grandchildren, who were all self-isolating on the farm. Those few days made such a difference to us all and I returned on the Monday morning feeling restored after a beautiful weekend.

"My stay at the Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital lasted 64 days, it kept me secure, helped me progress and made me fit enough for surgery – I really don’t know what would have happened otherwise. The NHS is amazing and Addenbrooke’s is also incredible.

"Throughout all of this, not at one point did we ever feel alone with the situation we were dealing with. My wonderful wife Tracy has been with me every step of the way, so this is her journey too, and when it was overwhelming or she was crying her eyes out, what she couldn’t talk to me about she was able to share with people in both hospital teams who became great friends made through tears, trust and chats. If you can get better healthcare I don’t know how. I have nothing but praise for these fantastic people – from the doctors and nurses through to all the office teams and behind the scenes staff – every single one of them went out of their way to help us in any way they could. Theirs is truly a special vocation and I don’t know how they do it. They are all angels and I will say that forever!"

Gill Barnes, Hospital Director at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital, acknowledges an unprecedented year: “It has been an extraordinary honour to be united in support of the NHS during this high-pressure healthcare situation.

“Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, dedicated teams at Nuffield Health Cambridge Hospital and Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust have worked closely to provide inpatient care for people living with cancer, strengthening relationships through challenging times with high-level expertise to achieve the best patient outcomes and provide vital care for patients in very great need.”