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WesFit trial wins Cancer Care Initiative of the Year

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

Southampton researchers have won this year’s Health Services Journal Cancer Care Initiative of the Year award for their pioneering trial of ‘prehabilitation’ exercise and psychological support for cancer surgery patients.

Professor Sandy Jack and her team have won the 2020 Health Services Journal’s award for Cancer Care Initiative of the Year for their WesFit trial. The award recognises outstanding dedication to making things better in the NHS.

This genuinely transformational project has translated early studies in Southampton’s NIHR Biomedical Research Centre and NIHR Clinical Research Facility into a regional, then national trial of exercise and psychological ‘prehabilitation’ support for cancer surgery patients.

The £2.3 million study compares the impact of pre-surgical exercise, psychological support or both combined. It was selected ahead of hundreds of other projects to win the award.

“This is fantastic news for the team, the communities and the patients involved in the trial here in Wessex and elsewhere across the UK,” comments study lead, Professor Sandy Jack.

Exercise as medicine

WesFit is rapidly translating Professor Jack’s pioneering research into frontline clinical practice. Those studies showed that structured, high intensity exercise in the six weeks between chemotherapy and surgery returned patients’ physical fitness to pre-chemotherapy levels before they entered the operating theatre.

Professor Jack’s team and the Wessex Cancer Alliance worked in partnership with cancer charities, leisure facilities and local councils across Wessex.

“We know that in major surgery physical fitness has a big impact on how fast you recover, your chances of complications and your long term outcomes,” explains Professor Mike Grocott, head of the Southampton Critical Care Research group.

“Not only have we shown this improvement in pre-surgery fitness, evidence of reduced complications and massively improved quality of life, we’ve also published data showing that this kind of exercise results in the tumour itself shrinking ahead of surgery.”

“Together we’re establishing the evidence for a whole new approach to cancer surgery services – focussing on getting people into the best possible shape before their operation to improve recovery, outcomes and help them stay healthy for the rest of their lives,” adds Sally Rickard, Director of the Wessex Cancer Alliance.

Adapting to COVID-19 restrictions

Despite WesFit being paused in March due to Covid-19 restrictions, the team transformed it into a virtual service-as-a-trial known as SafeFit, providing remote exercise, dietary and emotional support for cancer patients with paused or disrupted treatment plans.

This took the concept of the trial and offered a much broader range of support services to cancer patients across the UK, via an online platform and with the trained CanRehab instructors. SafeFit launched in April 2020 and has been an enormous success.

Due to the current restrictions on ceremonies and events, the awards were presented on Twitter this year, with a series of presentations and films that were submitted to HSJ by each nominee. You can watch the team’s WesFit presentation here:


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