Cancer patients miss out on care due to ‘lack of specialist nurses’

Cancer patients miss out on care due to ‘lack of specialist nurses’

Cancer patients are missing out on vital care as specialist nurses struggle to cope with huge workloads, warns Macmillan report

  • 22% of 260 cancer nurse specialists said they used annual leave to get training
  • 39% of those surveyed by Macmillan described their workload as unmanageable
  • Cancer survival rates in Britain lag behind those seen across Europe and the US 

Cancer patients are missing out on vital care because specialist nurses are struggling with huge workloads, a damning report has found.

Macmillan Cancer Support said specialist cancer nurses were having to use their annual leave to catch up on training in order to be on top of new treatments.

Its survey found the cancer workforce is stretched, with around one in 10 specialist posts still vacant in some regions. 

Macmillan said general nurses were also struggling to find time to train as cancer specialists. 

More than a third of cancer patients are still having to go to their GP at least twice before being sent to hospital for tests (file image)

One in five (22 per cent) of 260 cancer nurse specialists said they have taken annual leave to undertake training.

Meanwhile 39 per cent of those surveyed by the charity described their workload as unmanageable.

Some 44 per cent said their workload was having a negative impact on patient care. 

More than three-quarters (76 per cent) said having more time for training would help them improve care for people living with cancer.

Alison Keen chairwoman of the National Forum of Lead Cancer Nurses, said: ‘The world of cancer care is changing at a rapid pace, with an increase in the complexity of treatments, and an ever-growing demand for care.

PATIENTS MORE LIKELY THAN EVER TO WAIT MORE THAN TWO WEEKS TO SEE A CONSULTANT

Cancer survival rates in Britain lag behind those in Europe and the US, which experts say is primarily due to slow diagnosis.

Studies suggest 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year if the UK merely hit the European average for five-year survival.

NHS figures revealed that patients are now more likely to wait more than two weeks to see a consultant than at any other time on record.

At least 93 per cent of people should be seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of being urgently referred by their GP, the NHS says.

But in April 2019 that figure was just 89.9 per cent, dropping below 90 per cent for the first time since stats began in 2009.

A record high of 19,963 people in England had to wait longer than two weeks to see a consultant after being sent by their doctor. 

‘Nurses are pivotal to the delivery of cancer treatment and care. Nationally there is a lack of consistent and equitable funding for nurse education, which means that generalist nurses have little opportunity to have the resource or time to receive much-needed education and development.

‘The knock-on effect is the lack of opportunity to specialise in services, such as cancer care.

‘Even if some receive funding, nursing vacancies and pressure on acute services result in the inability to be released for training or development.’

Macmillan Cancer Support’s specialist adviser for workforce, Nikki Cannon, said the NHS workforce was at ‘breaking point’.

She added: ‘While much more needs to be done to grow the workforce, our report shows how urgently existing nursing staff also need to be supported and retained.’

Macmillan Cancer Support’s executive director of policy and impact, Dr Fran Woodard, pointed out that more people were being diagnosed with cancer and living longer with the disease.

He added: ‘The role of the specialist adult cancer nurse in supporting them to navigate complex care and support pathways should not be under-estimated.’

The report comes after a study yesterday found the UK lags behind those in Europe and the US, which experts say is primarily due to slow diagnosis. 

The UK was at the bottom of the league table for five out of seven cancers, including bowel, lung and pancreatic. 

Studies suggest 10,000 deaths could be prevented each year if the UK merely hit the European average for five-year survival.

MailOnline reported in June that almost three quarters of NHS hospitals take more than two months to start patients’ cancer treatment.

Hospital trusts in England are supposed to begin treatment within 62 days of a GP’s referral in 85 per cent of cases.

Maidstone & Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust was the worst performing by the 62-day measure in 2018-19

But last year only 37 out of 131 managed to hit that target, with 94 keeping seriously ill patients waiting longer.

In the worst performing health systems, almost 40 per cent of people had to wait longer than they should, while that figure was less than five per cent in the best.

Experts warned the longer people are made to wait before starting their treatment, the longer it will take them to recover from the ordeal of having cancer.

Figures uncovered by the BBC show the number of hospital trusts leaving 15 per cent or more of people waiting too long has almost tripled since 2014.

Five years ago (2013/14) just 36 trusts were missing the 62-day target – that figure rose to 94 for 2018/19.

NHS England as a whole managed to treat just 79.4 per cent of people within 62 days of their urgent referral from a GP, while 32,000 people waited longer.

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