Charge nurse Katy Currie sets up equipment in the Resuscitation Room in the Emergency Department at the Royal Hospital for Children and Young People Edinburgh (Jane Barlow/PA)
08 September 2021

Macmillan warns of ‘shocking shortfall’ in specialist cancer nurses

08 September 2021

Nursing shortages in the UK have left more than half a million people with cancer either unsupported or not supported enough, a charity has said.

Macmillan Cancer Support is calling for investment in specialist nurses to care for patients with the disease, saying there could be a shortage of almost 4,000 across the UK by 2030 without more funding.

A fifth of people with cancer who responded to a survey by the charity in summer said they had either not received any support from a specialist cancer nurse during their diagnosis or treatment and would have liked to, or said the support they received was not enough.

Macmillan said this equates to around 630,000 people when the total number living with cancer in the UK is taken into account.

Good care is a lifeline, not a luxury, and staff shortages mean exhausted nurses are struggling to deliver vital care in worsening conditions

The charity said a quarter of people diagnosed with cancer in the UK in the past two years – including at least an estimated 75,000 people diagnosed since the start of the pandemic – felt they lacked specialist cancer nursing support.

Among these, almost half (44%) said this lack of support had led to other medical impacts such as being unsure about what side effects oftreatment they should be looking out for, ending up in A&E, or being unsure if they were taking their medication correctly.

The charity estimated that if the number of specialist cancer nurses stays at current levels, the gap in each nation by 2030 will be 3,371 in England, 166 in Wales, 100 in Northern Ireland and 347 in Scotland.

To avoid this and train up a sufficient number of cancer nurses in the next decade, Macmillan is calling for an investment of £124 million in England, £12 million in Wales, £7 million in Northern Ireland and £31 million in Scotland.

Lynda Thomas, chief executive at the charity, said: “Coronavirus is continuing to deliver a devastating blow to cancer care that was already overstretched before the pandemic.

The charity is calling for an investment in specialist cancer nurses (Jane Barlow/PA) (PA Wire)

“Good care is a lifeline, not a luxury, and staff shortages mean exhausted nurses are struggling to deliver vital care in worsening conditions.

“People living with cancer and our NHS workforce don’t need warm words of thanks or sympathy from governments. They need action.

“We need to see urgent commitments to address the shocking shortfall in cancer nurses. If governments fail to rebuild cancer services, all of us will pay the price when we or our families face a cancer diagnosis.”

The report comes after a patient who was recovering from cancer treatment told MPs on the Health and Social Care Committee she felt “abandoned” when the pandemic hit.

Shirley Cochrane, who was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, said she was told to “self-manage” after the outbreak first struck.

Ms Cochrane told MPs on Tuesday: “I feel like I’ve been abandoned by the health service throughout the pandemic.

“Like someone’s just literally pulled a security blanket away from underneath me.”

– Macmillan Cancer Support/YouGov surveyed 2,032 adults online between July 30 and August 15 who had a previous cancer diagnosis.

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