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Treatment delays and staff shortages put cancer lives at risk in UK

Lives in the UK are being put at risk by delays to essential chemotherapy treatment and a shortages of cancer nurses, medical leaders have warned. The Independent reports that as many as 15% of cancer nursing roles are unfilled in parts of England with the result that the remaining staff are being “run ragged”, a major audit by the charity Macmillan found. It adds that the workforce as a whole is closer to retirement than during the last analysis in 2014, and nurses are increasingly taking on specialist roles without the pay or training they require.

Experts said some patients in some parts of the country are not getting the life-saving treatment they need in a timely manner as a result, and the blame for this “rests solely with the government”.

The Macmillan Cancer Workforce in England Report 2017 warns of a “startlingly broad variation” in the ratio of new cancer patients to nurses on hand to care for them in each part of the country. The report found the proportion of nurses performing the role of a cancer specialist in the lower-paid nursing roles, Band Five and Six, increased from 23% to 28%, while the number of band seven specialist nurses fell.

Workforce vacancies were higher than the UK average for the health sector in all four cancer roles considered by the census, which also included specialist palliative care nurses, and cancer support workers.

The report says the findings follow a report by the Nursing and Midwifery Council which showed an exodus of nurses from the EU as a result of the government’s “botched” Brexit negotiations, meaning nurse numbers fell for the second year running. “We are concerned that cancer nurses are being run ragged, and that some patients may not be receiving the level of specialist care they need,” said Dr Karen Roberts, the charity’s chief nursing officer.

“Nurses working in cancer care tell us that their increasingly complex and pressured workload is beginning to affect the quality of care patients receive. It is no surprise that hospitals are struggling to recruit to these roles, given this unprecedented pressure.”
She added that the expertise and support of someone who is a specialist, whether in a particular cancer or type of treatment, has a massive bearing on patients’ care.

Ann McMahon, research and innovation manager at the Royal College of Nursing went further. “It is no exaggeration to say the shortage of nurses is putting patients’ lives at risk,” she said. “As we saw earlier this year, not having enough specialist staff available can delay or reduce access to treatment including life-saving chemotherapy.

“For patients diagnosed with cancer, any delay can lead to worse outcomes, and it is difficult to overstate the distress felt by patients and their families as they wait to begin the treatments lives can depend on.

“The blame for this rests solely with the government. Poor workforce planning and brutal cuts to training budgets have left specialist services struggling to recruit the skilled nurses they need.”

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson is quoted in the report as saying: “Cancer survival rates are at a record high, with around 7,000 people alive today who would not have been if mortality rates stayed the same as in 2010.

“As well as expanding nurse training places by 5,170, we are also committed to increasing the capacity and skills of specialist cancer nurses.”

[link url="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/health/cancer-nurse-shortages-chemotherapy-nhs-macmillan-lung-breast-a8328316.html"]The Independent report[/link]
[link url="https://www.macmillan.org.uk/_images/cancer-workforce-in-england-census-of-cancer-palliative-and-chemotheraphy-speciality-nurses-and-support-workers-2017_tcm9-325727.pdf"]MacMillan report[/link]

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