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Cancer patients ‘worried about adding to workload of overstretched NHS staff’

Macmillan is launching its #SaveOurSupport campaign, to raise donations to help its services support more people living with cancer Photo: Lynne Cameron/PA

Cancer patients are too afraid to ask for support because they are worried about adding to the workload of overstretched NHS staff, a charity fears.

More than two thirds of newly diagnosed cancer patients questioned by Macmillan Cancer Support said they are not getting all the help they need – estimated to be about 300,000 people across the UK.

About a fifth (19%) of the 6,905 people in the survey said the healthcare professionals caring for them seemed to have “unmanageable” workloads.

These patients were a third more likely to have physical and emotional needs that were not being addressed, such as depression, anxiety, pain and trouble sleeping, the charity said.

It fears some patients are reluctant to ask for information or support because they are concerned about the welfare of those looking after them.

“Isolated” patients are struggling to get hold of healthcare professionals, and increasingly turning to Macmillan to express their concerns about staffing levels, the charity said.

Others are prioritising their questions due to long waits for answers, while some do not feel their problems are “big enough” to bother staff with.

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Onyeka Abajingin, a cancer information and support adviser on the Macmillan support line, said: “We are taking more and more calls from people with cancer who are coming to us because they are concerned about delays to treatment and a lack of information given by the NHS.

“They also feel like they can’t ask over-stretched NHS professionals for advice about common cancer-related issues like nausea and vomiting, fatigue and emotional distress, and when they do reach out, it’s really hard to get hold of them.

“They feel confused, isolated and really don’t know where else to turn.”

Macmillan is launching its #SaveOurSupport campaign, to raise donations to help its services support more people living with cancer.

It is calling on the Government to urgently address the staffing problems across the NHS and social care.

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Sarah Mills, 36, from London, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2018 and does not know when she will get results from routine scans to monitor for a relapse.

She said: “My cancer nurse specialist is always insanely overloaded so it’s not her fault, but also there is no-one else who can answer my questions. You feel alone.

“I’m still in the danger zone with my cancer and I just want to know when they’ll be able to tell me what they saw when they looked inside me.

“This is not the fault of any radiographer, nurse or administrator. They are just human beings who can only fit so much into a certain number of hours.

“The fact is there are not enough of them to keep up.”

The survey also found that 82% of patients said staff do listen to their needs, suggesting NHS professionals may not have the resources to deliver the care required.

Sarah Orr, a lead Macmillan cancer nurse, said: “I went into this profession to care for people, but I am growing ever more concerned that we can’t be fully there for all those that need us. Our biggest fear is not being able to help you with yours.

“Patients want reassurance that they are being cared for in a safe environment, but this is increasingly difficult to provide when there are not enough cancer nurses available nationally to look after them. One of the most basic needs is for a patient to feel safe.”