24th September 2019

Lung cancer patients are ‘missing out on care’ as nurses struggle with their workload

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A new report reveals that cancer patients – including people living with lung cancer – are missing out on vital care because specialist nurses are struggling to cope with their increasingly heavy workloads.

Some nurses are even having to use their annual leave to catch up on training in order to be on top of new developments and treatments, according to the report compiled by Macmillan Cancer Support.

The study found that many staff dealing with various forms of cancer are over-stretched, with around one in ten specialist nurse posts vacant in some regions of the country. It adds that general nurses are also struggling to find time to train as specialists.

One in five (22%) of the 260 cancer nurse specialists surveyed said they had taken annual leave to undertake training, while 39% described their workload as ‘unmanageable’, and 44% said that their workload was having a ‘negative impact’ on patient care.

More than three-quarters of the nurses (76%) declared that having more time for training would help them to improve care for people with cancer, and that includes people living with lung cancer.

Alison Keen, head of cancer nursing at University Hospital Southampton NHS Foundation Trust and chair of the national forum for UK 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.

“Nurses are pivotal to the delivery of cancer treatment and care. Nationally, there is a lack of consistent and equitable funding of 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 and development.”

Vanessa Beattie, chair of the National Lung Cancer Forum for Nurses (NLCFN), is among those urging government to take urgent action to recruit more staff to help ease the pressure on specialist nurses.

She told the 2019 annual meeting of the Global Lung Cancer Coalition (GLCC) that her organisation is all too aware of the shortages of trained lung cancer nurse specialists. It’s a problem likely to get even more acute, with more nurses leaving than are being recruited.

Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation is also a member of the GLCC and works closely with the Forum.

Paula Chadwick, our chief executive, said, “This is a very worrying trend. Our charity was responsible for funding the very first lung cancer nurse specialist and we want every person being treated for lung cancer to have the benefit of properly-trained specialist nurses.

“As a country, we need to allocate sufficient resourced to see that this happens, and that the present staff are not absolutely worked off their feet just trying to keep up with the latest developments.”

Paula Chadwick, Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation CEO.

Carol Belding, who lives in Basingstoke, Hants, has been living with lung cancer since 2012, and has really benefited from the support of her lung cancer nurse specialist.

“My specialist nurse, Sam, has been very supporting and caring.”

Added Carol, “She has referred me for complimentary therapy, where I had acupuncture to help ease pains in my feet. She also runs our lung cancer support group, funded by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation, which I find very inspiring”.