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Shortage of specialist cancer nurses uncovered

Tuesday 8th May 2018
There are currently more than 400 vacancies for specialist cancer nurses throughout the NHS, new figures show. Image: Lighthaunter via iStock
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A significant shortage of specialist cancer nurses has been uncovered in a new report.

The charity Macmillan Cancer Support has published figures from its latest workforce census showing that there are currently more than 400 vacancies for chemotherapy nurses, palliative care nurses and other specialist cancer nurses across NHS hospitals.

While this could be good news for nurses with specific expertise who are willing to work on a locum basis to help fill these workforce gaps, it is likely to be worrying for patients who are being looked after by overstretched nursing staff and cannot easily access the support of specialists.

Dr Karen Roberts, chief of nursing at Macmillan Cancer Support, commented: "If there aren't enough specialist cancer staff in place to cope with ever-increasing demand, then all too often it is patients who face the consequences.

"Patients can really struggle during and after treatment if they do not have enough expert support. Worse still, access to the badly-needed treatment may be reduced or delayed if there are shortages of highly-trained chemotherapy nurses."

What's more, the staffing problem could be set to worsen in the near future, as statistics show that the number of specialist cancer nurses aged 50 and above, and therefore nearing retirement, has risen markedly since 2014, when a workforce census of this kind was last conducted.

Specialist nursing staff are more in demand in certain parts of the UK than others, with lung cancer nurses caring for 62 patients each per year in some areas, yet as many as 203 in others.

Meanwhile, urology cancer nurses can care for anywhere between 87 and 251 patients a year, and breast cancer nurses anywhere from 56 to 145. As a result, the standard of care received by each individual patient could vary dramatically, simply based on their postcode.

Overall, the vacancy rate for specialist cancer nurses is significantly higher than for any other segment of the health and social care sector.

Written by James Puckle

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