A study across NHS England has found a shortage of specialist cancer nurses and support workers.
Throughout England, hospitals have vacancies of more than 400 specialist cancer nurses, chemotherapy nurses, palliative care nurses and cancer support workers - amid rising cancer diagnoses.
‘Having the expertise and support of a specialist nurse from the point of diagnosis has a huge bearing on whether or not a cancer patient has a positive experience of the care they receive. We are concerned that cancer nurses are being run ragged, and that some patients may not be receiving the level of specialist care they need,’ said Karen Roberts, chief nursing officer at MacMillan Cancer Support, the charity that released these findings.
‘Nurses working in cancer care tell us that their increasingly complex and pressured workload is beginning to affect the quality of care patients receive. It is no surprise that hospitals are struggling to recruit to these roles, given this unprecedented pressure.’
The findings also show a greater proportion of specialist nurses are now employed in lower pay bands than in 2014 - when the last survey was taken.
The number of specialist nurses aged 50 years old or over has increased, which highlights the importance of sustaining the workforce in the long term.
‘While the cancer workforce has grown, it has done so over a number of years without adequate long-term planning or direction. Macmillan has undertaken this work to highlight the strain this puts on those working in cancer care and to ensure that action is taken,’ said Fran Woodard, executive director of policy at MacMillan.
‘This situation will become more acute as the number of people being diagnosed with cancer continues to grow.’
Without specialist nurses, patients cannot access chemotherapy as easily because there are fewer professionals available to administer the lifesaving treatment.
A spokesperson from the Department of Health and Social Care has said: ‘Cancer survival rates are at a record high, with around 7,000 people alive today who would not have been if mortality rates stayed the same as in 2010. As well as expanding nurse training places by 5,170, we are also committed to increasing the capacity and skills of specialist cancer nurses.’