SAGE & THYME training package

The Problem
In 2004, NICE guidance was published on ‘improving   supportive and palliative care for adults with cancer’.  The guidance described 4 levels of emotional support that should be available to cancer patients, with level 1 being basic support that should be provided by any members of staff in contact with patients.  As it was clear that such staff did not in general have the communication skills required to deliver the support, the University Hospital of South Manchester NHS Foundation Trust (UHSM) led by Michael Connolly, with the help of other members of staff and a patient, decided to develop appropriate training.

The Solution
The SAGE & THYME training package is a 3 hour course that provides basic training on how to deal with emotional distress.  The SAGE & THYME model is a two-step structure based on published evidence regarding how best to communicate with patients.  The model guides staff as they allow patients to explore their fears and emotions in a supportive environment.  Patients are then encouraged to come up with their own solutions.

‘SAGE & THYME’ is an acronym for the approach: setting, ask; gather; empathy; talk; help; you; me; end.

Whilst the SAGE & THYME model and training was developed initially for staff dealing with cancer patients, the approach is generic and can be used to deal with anyone with emotional distress (e.g. colleagues, family, patients with other conditions e.g. heart disease, physical health problems) working within both health and social care in the UK and worldwide, therefore it potentially has a very wide application.

Since 2006, over 1100 healthcare staff from all professional backgrounds have received SAGE & THYME training.  An evaluation carried out with 412 delegates has shown that when comparing ratings pre and post-training, the training significantly increases the delegates’ mean score for perceived competence and confidence in talking to people about their emotional troubles, and also their willingness to talk to people about their emotional troubles.  In addition, 90% of delegates scored between 8 and 10 on the likelihood that the training would influence their practice.

The Process
TRUSTECH originally identified the training package after it was submitted as an example of a training innovation in TRUSTECH’s annual North West NHS innovation competition.  The training package was assessed positively by a technology manager and a service innovation manager within the TRUSTECH team and so TRUSTECH and UHSM agreed to work together to try and spread the training nationally.  TRUSTECH provided UHSM with a development fund grant (£25,000) to carry out a formal evaluation of the training in collaboration with the Maguire Communication Skills Training Unit based at The Christie NHS Foundation Trust.  The results of the evaluation will be submitted for publication in 2011. The training is being rolled out via a teach-the-teacher approach, whereby trainers who meet certain minimum requirements regarding their skills and experience are trained how to run the SAGE & THYME course.  Their organisation then purchases a licence for the SAGE & THYME facilitators to run the training.

TRUSTECH has provided advice on copyright and branding and also helped UHSM to register the trade mark.  It has also developed the business plan and drafted the licence agreement.  The involvement of TRUSTECH is ongoing as it is now negotiating the licence agreements on behalf of UHSM.

The training programme was shortlisted for a BUPA Foundation communication award in 2009 and to date, and as of June 2011, 17 organisations and hospices have purchsed a licence.

To quote Michael Connolly, Macmillan Nurse Consultant in Supportive and Palliative Care at UHSM: “The involvement of TRUSTECH has been pivotal.  The encouragement, strategic advice, attention to detail and perseverance has been invaluable.  The SAGE & THYME project would be in its infancy without TRUSTECH.  Instead SAGE & THYME now has a developing evidence base, secure intellectual property, a sustainable infrastructure and a national profile.”

Where can I get further information on the SAGE & THYME® training package?
Please visit:

For more information, please contact Joanne Thomas on 0161 276 6965 or email

SAGE & THYME Case Study 07 12 12

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