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Advanced Communication Skills Training


Advanced Communication Skills Training (ACST)

(Dr Susie Wilkinson Model)


The Cancer Control Programme (2006) and the Framework for Cancer Prevention, Treatment and Care (2010) recognise the need for health and social care professionals to be skilled in communicating effectively and sensitively with people affected by cancer and life limiting conditions. Both documents stipulate that those professionals with responsibility for communicating significant news should undertake a programme of advanced communication skills training. This is in line with UK wide initiatives which have resulted in the development of an agreed programme of training.

Model of training

Coordinated by the Northern Ireland Cancer Network, the model chosen is aligned with the national (UK) course. It has been robustly evaluated and shown to change behaviours and enhance communication between professional and patients. It is an intensive quality assured course, designed and led by Dr Susie Wilkinson, involves six-eight participants. It includes a variety of experiential learning approaches including the use of actors in role play, video recording, presentations, critical reflection and debate.

This programme has been developed, progressed and partially funded in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support in NI.

ACST Core Principles

The original course is aimed at senior healthcare professionals working with adults in the areas of cancer and palliative care. It consisted of a two day intensive, experiential, learner-centred course, where up to 12 participants worked with two facilitators on areas of communication they found personally challenging. The programme is usually delivered outside of the hospital setting. Participants are bound by agreed ground rules and trained actors simulate patients in role play. The participants set the agenda for the two days by presenting complex communication scenarios they have found difficult in practice; they are then facilitated to work through their own scenario over the two day period.

Development of the Northern Ireland ACST Programme

The initial ACST delivery in NI began in 2009 with the original three-day course. The programme has since undergone a process of evaluation and review in response to feedback from participants. The current NI ACST model now comprises of a two-day programme containing the learning philosophy, core components, learning outcomes, and delivery methods of the original programme.

To access the ACST training materials, click here

For further information on training dates in your Trust, please contact:

Caroline McLoughlin  SHSCT

Lesley Rutherford   BHSCT

King Emma  WHSCT

Geraldine Breslin SET

Fiona Gilmour NHSCT

Sharon Maginn HSE CEC