LOCKDOWN has been a challenging time for us all but especially for those with existing life-threatening conditions such as cancer sufferers.

There is holistic help at hand though with increasing evidence that massage treatments are a balm, while they have a champion too in ESPA founder Sue Harmsworth who is changing old spa attitudes.

Sue is pioneering a new benchmark, the Standard Authority for Touch in Cancer Care (www.satcc.co.uk), which will make “massage for those touched by cancer accessible to all”.

She said: “The meteoric rise in cancer has flagged up a lot of these things. So that now we recognise that one in two people born after 1970 will be touched by cancer themselves which is a huge statistic.

“Hoteliers had perceived that they had insurance issues that they couldn’t cover their therapists for treating patients with cancer because it was too risky. Now there really was no medical foundation for that.

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“There’s been a lot of people still being turned away which is what has galvanised me into doing this.

“There was also a myth that if you moved the lymph around the body you could do damage. Therapists are by nature carers so they’re always worried about doing damage.

“And if you think about it there are so many different kinds of cancer and so many contradictions that the therapists really didn’t know.

“If they were confronted with a guest with say, a mastectomy, or a wig, they really didn’t have the skills either verbally or from an anatomy or physiological point of view to deal with that.”

Covid-19 has disrupted businesses all across society, but Sue, who has been 50 years in the health and wellness sector and sold ESPA in 2017, believes that spas are well equipped to meet the new regulations.

She added: “Spas have historically been very, very good at hygiene. So therapists, spa operators, hoteliers, are very risk-averse, they’re very good at sterilisation procedures and all of those stuff.

“Our feedback from oncologists and the industry generally is that those people who are having massages is that it really helps reducing anxiety.

“They love touch because if you think about it while you’re going through treatment you’re being poked and prodded by doctors and so on and so forth.

“I would never recommend, nor would anyone, having an intensive treatment, or a deep tissue massage. The treatments are designed to be very nurturing and the other thing is that in all the SATCC-accredited spas in Scotland the therapists are being trained to deal with each individual and their individual needs and individual problems.

“They will tailor-make the treatment for you. If it’s an accredited SATCC therapist a Cancer patient does not have to worry if they’re wearing a wig, or have got scarring, or they can’t lie on their tummy those therapists have been trained in emotional intelligence and empathy and they will understand your individual needs.”

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Sue acknowledges that the perception of spas is that they are expensive and she is keen to stress that the SATCC will be “very inclusive”.

She added: “We are partnering with Spabreaks.com who have about 700 spas in the UK and Ireland. However, about 120 of them are SATCC-approved and that’s under their Safe Hands Collection and if you go to the SATCC site it will take you straight you to Safe Hands Collection.

“They vary enormously in price and some of them really aren’t expensive. Because we want to make it really inclusive we’ve partnered with Think Tree Hub (ThinkTreeHub.com) which is a training accreditation association which was built up by medical people and we’ve put a link with them to individual therapists.

“So if you can’t afford to go to a spa, or don’t want to go to a spa, if you put your postcode in, then you’ll find a list of individual therapists that are also approved because they’ve done the training.”

Sue herself has been touched by cancer. Her daughter-in-law had it while she has lost two very good friends.

And now that she is semi-retired, at 75, although with no wish to stop working, Sue sees SATCC as her way of giving back.

“It’s just that I saw these people being turned away in the industry. When I sold ESPA I had 700 spas in 70 countries and we were training between 5000 and 8000 therapists a year, and we were seeing this lack of knowledge and insurance issue with the hotels not wanting to tackle it.

“In fairness to the hotels they are now waking up, especially with Covid and they’re realising that all the lifestyle diseases are in their hotels.

“The argument before was that ‘we don’t want sick people in our hotels’ and I’d say ‘they’re there already’ and you need to deal with it.’’