New analysis by Breast Cancer Care recently showed that despite the number of newly diagnosed breast cancer cases rising by a fifth in a decade, breast care nurse posts in England have remained at the same level since records began.
The figures show that the numbers of newly diagnosed cases of breast cancer in England have risen by 18% from 38,153 in 2003 to 44,831 in 2013. Similarly, in Wales and Scotland the rise of breast cancer cases is around 20%.
Yet despite this, the number of specialist breast care nurses has remained the same at around 430 across England since records began in 2007. The worry is this trend could follow for Scotland and Wales.
The concern is that this widening gap between the numbers of people diagnosed with breast cancer and breast care nurses is increasing pressure on nurses’ workloads, which will impact negatively on quality of care.
Breast care nurses do a fantastic and absolutely vital job but they are under more and more pressure to provide the same quality of care with much less time, more responsibilities and many more patients.
On the helpline at Breast Cancer Care I speak with many women who reinforce the significant value and positive impact their breast care nurse has. But all too often they just can’t get hold of their nurse or they are anxious about bothering them, knowing how busy they are. The good news is that more people survive a breast cancer diagnosis. But this means that many face ongoing side-effects of the disease and its treatment. Not only is this difficult for the patient, it further increases the workload of nurses.
We welcome the Independent Cancer Taskforce’s cancer strategy recommendation that every cancer patient should have access to a specialist nurse, but the next step is how to make that a reality. As the number of breast cancer cases rises, this discrepancy needs to be addressed.
In the meantime, Breast Cancer Care is here to complement and support specialist nurses in their work. With our range of services, we can provide anyone affected by breast cancer with expert support and information every day, from day one.
Our Moving Forward courses support a woman once her treatment has finished and our work with younger women ensures they feel less isolated and know to ask about their unique needs, such as the effects of cancer treatment on their fertility.
Breast Cancer Care’s free helpline and ‘ask the nurse’ email services offer up to date information and answer questions on complex treatments, side effects and recovery. Primary care nurses have an essential role to play in supporting and advising women.
Emma Pennery, clinical director, Breast Cancer Care