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Cancer patients ‘missing out on care’ as nurses struggle with workload

A new report from Macmillan Cancer Support warns that patients are missing out on care because specialist nurses are overstretched Photo: Peter Byrne/PA

Cancer patients are missing out on vital care as specialist nurses struggle with huge workloads, according to a new report.

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 developments and treatments.

The charity’s study found the cancer workforce is stretched, with around one in 10 specialist nurse posts vacant in some regions.

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General nurses are also struggling to find time to train as cancer specialists, it said.

One in five (22%) of 260 cancer nurse specialists surveyed by the charity said they have taken annual leave to undertake training, while 39% described their workload as unmanageable.

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

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

Alison Keen, head of cancer nursing at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and 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.

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“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 nursing workforce is at breaking point and, 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, said: “More people are being diagnosed with cancer and more people are living longer with more complex conditions, and 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 new study found that the UK lags behind other high-income countries when it comes to cancer survival.

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

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “Cancer nurses do an invaluable job and we expect all organisations to ensure staff are able to take the necessary time off to undertake appropriate training and development.

“The recent spending review included a £150 million fund for continuous professional development for nurses, midwives and allied health professionals, providing each with a personal training budget of at least £1,000 over three years.

“The record £33.9 billion extra a year we’re investing in our NHS will also help the health service recruit the staff it needs for the future, and by 2021 every patient will have access to a specialist cancer nurse.”