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  1. ITV Report

Specialist nurse shortage leaves incurable breast cancer patients 'feeling alone'

A woman with incurable breast cancer has told how she feels "left alone" and "without the support" she needs, due to a lack of specialist NHS nurses.

A study for Breast Cancer Care has found that only 42% of NHS trusts say they do not have the staff to allocate people with terminal breast cancer a specialist nurse.

However, 95% of women with primary breast cancer have a named specialist nurse who they can contact for support, guidance and information.

Laura Ashurst was diagnosed with secondary breast cancer in 2007, and says the support she received then was vastly different to that she received when she was diagnosed with primary breast cancer in 2001 and 2004.

"I felt as though I was left very much alone and without the support I needed," Ms Ashurst said.

"A diagnosis of secondary breast cancer is an enormous blow, an enormous psychological and emotional blow, and it's that kind of support that input from a speicalist nurse that I've found very, very sadly, lacking."

Ms Ashurst told how instead she had been forced to find support herself.

She continued: "I feel the NHS has let me down by not having the right, adequate support that I need and that people like me need."

A consultant studies a mammogram. Credit: PA

Advanced - or secondary - breast cancer occurs when the cancer cells spread to other parts of the body such as the bones, liver, lungs and brain.

It is incurable but some women can live for several years with treatment.

There are an estimated 36,000 people living with this type of secondary breast cancer in the UK and each year around 11,600 die from the disease.

One in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer.

The new study of NHS hospitals and health boards across England, Scotland and Wales, found that 76% agree there is not enough specialist nursing care for people with incurable breast cancer.

It has been mandatory since 2013 for NHS trusts to collect data on how many women have advanced breast cancer, but only a third do so.

Speaking to ITV News, Danni Manzi of Breast Cancer Care said that being diagnosed with incurable breast cancer "is terrifying, it's completely isolating, and that's why the role of the nurse is so pivotal".

Ms Manzi added that secondary breast cancer nurses are "absolutely crucial as they provide psychological, emotional and practical support.

"Secondary breast cancer is a complex disease, tumours spread so patients might be having to deal with multiple medical teams, so the nurse enables them to navigate the NHS and deal with their treatment and ask questions about what their treatment might mean."

Danni Manzi of Breast Cancer Care. Credit: ITV News

Samia al Qadhi, chief executive of Breast Cancer Care, said: "These findings highlight the worrying truth - care for people with incurable secondary breast cancer is not good enough.

"Our survey revealed nurses often lack crucial training to coordinate the complex care and treatment, help people manage often debilitating pain or have conversations about dying.

"And it is outrageous that even though specialist nursing can dramatically improve quality of life for women and men with incurable breast cancer, so many do not have a nurse they can count on for essential support.

"We are calling on NHS clinical commissioning groups and health boards to ensure specialist nursing care is available for all patients with incurable breast cancer and that the right breast cancer services are in place in their hospitals to meet patient needs.

"Only then will everyone living with incurable breast cancer get the care and support they need."

A spokesperson for NHS England said: "Evidence shows that access to a cancer nurse specialist or other key worker supports a positive patient experience.

"We are working closely with others across the NHS to agree the best way to widen access to specialist support for all people living with cancer, including those living with secondary breast cancer, as part of our plans to transform cancer services across the board."